NJTV held its third forum in its Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Addiction Crisis initiative at the Student Center of the Busch campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway on Wednesday. More than 80 people were in attendance to discuss the opioid and heroin epidemic from the perspective of prevention and education. ICYMI, click here to watch the recorded livestream and get access to helpful resources.
NJTV News correspondent Briana Vannozzi moderated thoughtful and in-depth discussion with a panel that represented the issue from varying perspectives: James N. Batelli, Mahwah Police Chief, Frank L. Greenagel Jr., Rutgers School of Social Work/United States Army, Diane Litterer, CEO & Executive Director of New Jersey Prevention Network and Joel Torres, Senior Coordinator for ADAPT – Alcohol and Prevention Team.
Also in attendance who contributed to the discussion and took questions were Asm. Joseph A. Lagana (NJ-38) who is proposing a series of bills to help better monitor opioid prescriptions and share patient information; addiction research scientist Dr. Arthur Tomie, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Graduate Program in Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience, and Adjunct Associate Professor, Neuro Pharmaco Genetics Lab, Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University; Dan Nelson, an individual in recovery who shared his very personal story of growing up with addiction disease; and Morris County Prosecutor, Fredric M. Knapp.
According to Litterer, New Jersey is “ahead of the curve” when it comes to drug prevention, and cited a recent survey indicating seven out of 10 parents understand the connection between prescription medications and heroin use. Greenagel argued that not enough research is measurable, and measurement is a key to prevention and treatment success. Batelli emphasized the important role that communication within communities can play in the addiction fight, pointing out his office’s social media team as an example of how to keep conversation and answers flowing.
There was consensus and lengthy discussion on why past “Just Say No” anti-drug campaigns don’t work for communities today. Dr. Tomie explained that research shows the brain’s chemistry, once it experiences the “reward” of a positive drug experience, can make an individual unable to resist future temptation (a concept known as “sign tracking”). According to him, people are under the misperception that if they say yes to trying a drug one time, they can say no the next time. “It doesn’t work that way,” he said.
Audience members, some of whom had traveled from Ocean and Monmouth Counties, cited frustrations with the lack of programs offering resources to combat addiction in their families. Some started their own groups or became formally trained in addiction-related services to deal with their family issues first-hand.
There were information tables from prevention facilities, treatment providers and other expert organizations to provide the public with resources at the event.
NJTV’s Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Crisis initiative is a multi-platform initiative made possible by major funding from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and additional support from The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey. NJTV’s Community Engagement Director Selma Betancourt, MS coordinated the multi-faceted event. NJTV News’ Matt Rosen filmed the livestream coverage.