Experts, Residents Unite to Address Opioid Epidemic

As New Jersey and the nation grapple with an opioid and heroin addiction crisis, more than 100 residents of Warren County joined the conversation on the public health issue at the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey’s Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall at Warren County Community College on Friday Sept. 29.

An average of 144 people in the United States die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Opioid overdose deaths totaled 33 in Warren County during 2016, and there were 133 deployments of naloxone.

“Warren County is not immune,” said Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey Executive Director Angelo Valente. “It is necessary for all of us to work together as a community to try to come up with ways to eradicate this epidemic and to change the public attitude toward addiction.”

An expert panel addressed the opioid crisis from various perspectives. The panel featured Eugene M. Decker, DO, from St. Luke’s University Health Network; Assemblyman John DiMaio; Bill Stover, Associate Executive Director of the Family Guidance Center of Warren County; Mariel Hufnagel, Executive Director of The Ammon Foundation; Mary Jo Harris, Community Coalition Coordinator with Coalition for Healthy & Safe Communities – Warren County; and Warren County Prosecutor Richard T. Burke.

“The turnout was very encouraging,” said Harris. “People are getting the message. We have to deal with this problem. This is another step in meeting the crisis head-on.”

Organized with the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, the town hall series focuses on the issue of prescription drug dependency and heroin abuse and includes collaboration from hundreds of local prevention, treatment and recovery organizations, as well as local and county law enforcement, government and medical community leaders.

“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,” said Tracy Parris-Benjamin, a transformation coach at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.

The Warren County Town Hall was co-sponsored by the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office, the Coalition for Healthy and Safe Communities and Warren County Community College.

“I’m so happy to see so many people here to understand and acknowledge this problem,” said Prosecutor Burke. “It’s not going away on its own.”

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” acknowledged Assemblyman DiMaio. “Everybody is going to have to do their part in addressing this situation. Everybody has a stake in this.”

Friday’s event was the seventh town hall in a 17-part series being held throughout the state. Meanwhile, Friday Oct. 6 was officially declared Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day in the state, as well, with various awareness activities scheduled in Warren County and around New Jersey. The Warren County Freeholders additionally produced a proclamation observing Oct. 6th as Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day in Warren County.

If you would like more information on addressing the opioid epidemic please contact the Coalition (a program of the Family Guidance Center) at 908-223-1985.

Photo: Warren County Project Teach students were among the attendees at the recent Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall meeting. They are joined in the photo here by the expert panelists who spoke at the event. 


Best known for its statewide anti-drug advertising campaign, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey is a private not-for-profit coalition of professionals from the communications, corporate and government communities whose collective mission is to reduce demand for illicit drugs in New Jersey through media communication. To date, more than $70 million in broadcast time and print space has been donated to the Partnership’s New Jersey campaign, making it the largest public service advertising campaign in New Jersey’s history. Since its inception, the Partnership has garnered 166 advertising and public relations awards from national, regional and statewide media organizations.


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