By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent
The more than 50 concerned parents, community members and school and public officials who came together recently for a presentation at Trenton Catholic Academy on the increasing national heroin and opioid epidemic were met with some sobering statistics.
More than 170 people die each day in the United States from an overdose; every three weeks, overdose deaths equal the number of people who died in the 9-11 terror attacks on the Twin Towers, and America makes up 4.6 percent of the world population but accounts for more than 80 percent of the world’s opioid usage.
“From 2002 to 2014, there was an 80 percent increase in first-time heroin users,” said Kevin Meara of the Hamilton-based City of Angels, which helps those who suffer from alcohol or drug addiction. “Accidental deaths from prescription drug overdose now surpass accidental deaths by motor vehicle accidents.”
Meara, who founded City of Angels in 2009 with his wife, MaryAnn, after their son, KC, died of a heroin overdose, was among those who addressed the drug epidemic in the country, state and local community during a presentation Oct. 30 in the Hamilton school. He was joined by The Heroin/Opiate Task Force of Mercer County and Footprints to Recovery for the presentation, which was titled, “Hidden in Plain Sight.”
“We ask that everyone here this evening be open, be vigilant to do what’s right for all those under our care,” said Sister of St. Joseph Dorothy Payne, TCA president.
Lending his experience to the topic of the “Opioid Epidemic in the ER,” Dr. Jim Baird, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and a physician in Washington Township, asked those in attendance, “What kind of parent are you?”
Sharing stories of his experiences in emergency rooms and seeing those who lost battles with drug addiction, he spoke of the history of pain management in the United States and how people and teens are obtaining prescription opioids – more than half from friends and relatives.
“Get your pills out of the medicine cabinet,” Baird said, urging parents to educate themselves as to “what addiction looks like.”
As a physician, he said he encourages patients to question their doctor on prescriptions. “Ask questions like, ‘How long should I take this for?’ ‘What if I have a history of addiction?’ ‘What about other medications I am taking?’ ‘How should I store this medication?’” he said.
He also encouraged parents to start talking to their children about drug and alcohol addiction at an early age. “It’s never too young to start.”
Baird also stressed the need for parents to seek help from professionals and not to share their own medications.
Those in attendance also got to see just how teens hide their drug use in their own homes.
Parents were shocked as Michele Schreffler-Perez, the City of Angels’ Southern Chapter president, led a demonstration through a teen girl’s room – showing how drugs and drug paraphernalia were, in fact, in plain sight and masked as everyday objects. For example, a box of dryer sheets may look innocent, but the sheets can hide the smell of marijuana. A computer mouse, meanwhile, can hide a digital scale inside, which are used to weigh small amounts of drugs.
“That was eye-opening,” Jessica Perez, PTA president at Trenton Catholic Academy, admitted. “So many things can be hidden right under a parent’s nose.”
Perez, who has a son in college and a daughter in TCA’s Lower School, said she was glad she attended the information session. “I learned so much, and want to continue to be informed. This epidemic is affecting so many families and so many young people. I hope more parents are able to identify the signs of addiction and are able to get their children help before it is too late.”
Fellow parent Biji Abraham agreed. “I want to know everything I can about this,” the mother of four said, after searching the bedroom setup. “There are so many signs here that can be easily missed by even the most observant parents. It’s scary, but I am glad to know that there are resources for parents and families, and we need to inform others how to get help if they need it.”
Areas of Support
In addition to concerned parents and community members, the evening was attended by state Sen. Linda R. Greenstein (D-14), and Mercer County Freeholders Ann M. Cannon and Samuel T. Frisby.
“If there is any way I can be of assistance, I am at your disposal,” Greenstein said. “I want to be very active with this."
She also praised City of Angels and its service to the community. “I so much admire what you’ve done, Kevin, taking your sorrow and bringing it into good to help so many people and for being nationally recognized for that,” Greenstein said, referring to a recent trip to the White House by Meara and City of Angels, who were present for President Trump’s recent declaration that the opioid crisis is a national emergency.
Hamilton Township Superintendent Dr. Scott R. Rocco also pledged his support to City of Angels.
“Thank you for all being here, and I challenge you – the next time we have an evening like this to bring a friend, bring a neighbor, bring a spouse, bring two people with you,” he said.
“This is an important message. It’s important to me as superintendent of schools – there are 11,500 students that I’m in charge of in 24 buildings, but three of those students are my own kids,” Rocco continued. “I want what’s best for not only the 11,500 kids, but also my own kids. I understand that what we have at hand right now is a crisis.”
In addition to the presentation, different organizations were available to provide resources to parents, including Recovery Advocates of America, the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Summit Behavioral Health, the New Jersey Division of the Drug Enforcement Divisions and Prevention Coalition of Mercer County.
“This information is so important to have,” Sister Dorothy said at the conclusion of the presentation. “If we can save even one child’s life, then it is well worth it.”
For more information on City of Angels, visit www.cityofangelsnj.org.