HILLSBOROUGH: YMCA collaborates to develop drug prevention efforts


By Andrew Martins
Weeks after the opioid crisis received some high-profile attention following President Donald J. Trump’s declaration of a “health emergency,” Somerset County’s YMCA organization is joining up with The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey to create a new drug prevention initiative aimed at supporting parents.
This month, the effort will include information regarding substance abuse, tools such as conversation starters, and resources where families may obtain additional information and counsel. Materials will be available at the Hillsborough YMCA, as well as at other YMCAs throughout the state.
Additional materials will also be available on the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance website.
“The path from drug use to drug addiction can be quick and intense. Parents need to address it head on with their children,” David M. Carcieri, president of New Jersey YMCA State Alliance, and president and CEO of Somerset County YMCA, said. “Prevention is not passive. It is an active, earnest undertaking and it starts early and requires regular reinforcement.”
In New Jersey, high rates of opioid addiction have claimed an estimated 5,000 lives in the past decade, with more people dying in New Jersey in 2016 from drug overdoses than from guns, car accidents and suicides, combined.
According to the Office of the State Medical Examiner of New Jersey, there were between 2,090 and 2,250 drug-related deaths overall in New Jersey in 2016, up from 1,587 in 2015.
New Jersey also has the sixth highest rate in the nation of visits to the emergency room due to opioid abuse. And naloxone, a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose, has been administered over 25,000 times in New Jersey since 2014.
YMCA officials said the new initiative fell in line with the organization’s overall drive to facilitate youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
“We’ve seen the devastating impact of addiction on families in the communities we serve throughout New Jersey,” Carcieri said. “We believe we can help and we see this role as supporter and community convener as a perfect fit with our mission.”
Earlier this year, the New Jersey Legislature passed a joint resolution designating an annual Night of Conversation in November. The purpose of the law was to create awareness about substance use and to help families initiate conversations about drug and alcohol addiction.
While the Night of Conversation helps to bring this issue to the forefront of parents’ consciousness, Angelo M. Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, said his organization, the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance and The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey wanted to do more.
“The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey has always encouraged communication between children and their parents and caregivers because it is the most effective way to prevent substance misuse and abuse. With the epidemic levels of opioid abuse impacting our state, the time is now to educate and raise awareness among parents and caregivers about the potential for dependency of prescribed medicine, as well as trends of substances that are abused,” Valente said. “Communication between parents and their children is crucial if we are to make inroads in preventing this epidemic and stemming substance misuse in our state.”
Officials said the plan is multi-phased, with the goal of providing additional assets in the form of print, video and social media materials to make accessible effective resources for families.
“We all know that one person can make a big difference in the lives of children and no one has more of an impact than a parent,” Jonathan R. Pearson, executive director of The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, said. “Drug addiction doesn’t discriminate and that’s why every parent needs to educate and empower their kids by talking to them about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. A parent’s love, support and guidance is critical to putting a child on a lifelong path to success, health and happiness.”
For more information about this drug prevention initiative, contact Hillsborough YMCA or visit www.somersetcountyymca.org/drugprevention.