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Old Bridge fighting opiate addiction epidemic

OLD BRIDGE — The Municipal Alliance coordinator position has been expanded to a full-time role.

Three entities — the Old Bridge Township School District, Old Bridge Township and Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge — banded together to not only extend the coordinator into a full-time role, but set forth resources of the three entities from providing programs with guest speakers to utilizing the hospital’s behavioral science program and bringing additional programs to the Old Bridge schools.

This marks the first time in recent memory that all three entities have agreed to work together on a township-wide project.

Schools Superintendent David Cittadino said township officials asked him if the school district could partner with the Municipal Alliance, paying half the coordinator’s salary, which would extend the position to a full-time job.

The purpose of the Municipal Alliance is to eradicate illicit drug use and substance abuse throughout the township.

Membership includes a mayoral representative, the police chief, president of the Board of Education, the superintendent of schools, local mental health agencies, and private citizens, including youth representatives and individuals recovering from drug and/or alcohol abuse.

Through the Municipal Alliance, forums are held twice a year in Old Bridge to address the drug addiction problem in large part to state grant funding.

“I told [Mayor Owen Henry] that funding was tight,” Cittadino said. “But I asked the mayor if he minded if I reached out to the hospital to help fund the position. It was a perfect marriage.”

Cittadino contacted Michael D’Agnes, president of Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge, and requested the hospital’s key resources, programs and $15,000 to help pay for expanding the coordinator’s position with the Municipal Alliance.

“I told him if we’re not providing information to students and parents, they will wind up in the emergency room,” Cittadino said. “I said, I believe this is a great opportunity for you; it is your civic responsibility to be part of the education process, to explore every opportunity to put together an education plan to assist our young people.”

D’Agnes responded with an agreement. He said he is pleased to be part of a collaborative effort with the Board of Education and the township in dealing with the opiate addiction epidemic and “to work with youth at an early stage in attempt to educate them on the dangers of substance abuse.”

While the specifics of the plan have not been firmed up, the Municipal Alliance will bring in guest speakers and will utilize the hospital’s resources, including a behavioral science program to bring additional programs to Old Bridge schools.

“The fact that this partnership is taking place says a lot about the level of importance that [a municipal alliance coordinator and educational programs] holds for the township,” Henry said. “I want to thank everyone for their cooperation in helping to launch forward thinking alliances like the one we have created between the township, hospital, and schools. The invaluable knowledge that the hospital and the schools provide us, strengthen our efforts, and give us the tools needed to fight this epidemic head on.”

Karen Tortorici, municipal alliance coordinator, said the partnership between the Municipal Alliance, Alliance volunteers and the school district has always been strong.

“I am so pleased that they were so instrumental in helping this collaboration happen,” she said.

Tortorici said the collaboration of the hospital, along with the nurses, doctors and dentists in the township, will bring the partnership to a new level to help the residents in needs.

“It will create more time to access the valuable information that the hospital and schools provide to help eradicate drug abuse and save lives,” she said.

Township Business Administrator Himanshu Shah pointed out the importance of creating “public private partnerships.”

He said that this partnership enables the township to “share costs and increase services to fight [the opiate] epidemic.”

The latest partnership is one of the many partnerships the township has entered to continue to combat the opiate addiction epidemic.

Earlier this year, the township entered an interlocal agreement with the Township of Woodbridge and Meridian Old Bridge to provide recovery coaches to township residents.

The township invested $25,000 for the agreement with Woodbridge that will be used when needed for the program.

The Peer Recovery Coach program provides peer coaches, who make contact with a person who is sent to an emergency room, develop a relationship with the person and provide the continued support the person suffering from addiction needs on the road to recovery.

The recovery coaches are in recovery or have been through the recovery process before.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.

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