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Event Recap: Faces of Addiction in Toms River

NJTV hosted the first Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Addiction Crisis forum to address New Jersey’s ongoing drug use and overdose epidemic last night at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center in Toms River NJ. The discussion, themed Faces of Addiction, sought a personal look at today’s addiction to gain a better understanding of who is using heroin and “gateway” drugs, abusing opioids and the stigma facing both addicts and their loved ones as they search for recovery. Panel discussion and audience Q&A was moderated by NJTV News Correspondent Michael Hill and livestreamed. ICYMI, watch it here. The forum is part of a year-long community engagement initiative for the network, funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Healthcare Foundation of NJ.

About 140 people were in attendance, from counties as far away as Bergen, Hudson and Burlington. Tables of resources lined the room from partner organizations and treatment centers.

The evening’s panelists were:

  • Patty DiRenzo, Advocate (who lost her son to overdose)
  • Maureen McLoughlin MSW CSW, Families Against Addiction Inc., Executive Director
  • Stephen Stirling, NJ Advance Media Reporter
  • Paul Ressler, The Overdose Prevention Agency Corporation, CEO and President, (who suffered the loss of his son to overdose)
  • Joel Pomales, New Jersey chapter of Young People in Recovery and CCAR-Certified Recovery Coach

In addition to the panel, there were experts on hand to speak to the topic from the Ocean County Prosecutor’s office, the medical field, advocacy groups and more. The audience was heavily engaged throughout the session and questions could have kept going well beyond the two-hour event. Based upon the feedback received on opinion cards distributed at the event, the dialogue was well-received. Comments included. “Loved the forum”, “Excellent program”, “Very well done”. One member of the audience, Connie Green, commented, “What’s happening in this room had never happened before”, alluding to the in-depth group discussion of the addiction topic. Panelist Stephen Sterling stated, “Forums like this where we talk about things is a great start,” to resolving the drug crisis in the state. Added panelist Maureen McLoughlin, “ There is hope. Look at the people in this room. We’re talking the talk that needs to be done.”

NJTV News Correspondent Briana Vannozzi conducted one-on-one interviews with individuals about their personal stories of living with/around addiction. NJTV News Executive Producer Phil Alongi, Correspondent Erin Delmore, Development Director Sarah Rosen, Communications Director Deb Falk and Community Engagement Director Selma Betancourt were also in attendance.

Here are some images captured from the event:

Watch tonight’s NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams for Michael Hill’s report on the evening, airing at 6pm, 7:30pm and 11pm on NJTV.

NJTV’s next Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Addiction Crisis forum in the series will be April 29, focusing on public policy and located in Atlantic City, wrapped into the state’s largest addiction conference on April 29th at the Convention Center.