By Michael Hill
“When I saw the numbers and I saw everything that was happening around me and we could see one death after another death and my phone was just ringing and texting off the hook. We had 112 deaths in 2013,” Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said.
The forum featured providers, professionals in the field and parents sharing. One mom said she knew her daughter was on pain meds for a back problem but a year later learned, and perhaps too late, she learned from police that her daughter was also an IV heroin user.
“You don’t forget the words. The first words that are said to you: ‘We don’t know how to tell you this. This isn’t easy to say,’ and you know,” said Jill Ann Lazare.
Another said her son desperately sought treatment, but insurance cut him off after two weeks.
“My son came out with a little certificate and I thought he was cured. I had no idea. I honestly didn’t,” said Patty DiRenzo.
The conversation included prevention. Assistant Prosecutor Rory Wells relies on transparency in talking to school kids.
“How you have to approach it is, yes, I know you can get the drugs. Here’s why you shouldn’t. These are the reasons why. And for me I like to share something that might be vulnerable to empower them in their decision making. You’ve got to use some discretion,” Wells said.
One group has young, recovering addicts speaking frankly and without scare tactics to students.
“It’s being young, being able to identify with the same things as part of the culture. We understand what’s happening and it just gets through. It resonates,” said Joel Pomales from Young People in Recovery.
Ressler says opiate abuse, heroin use and overdose deaths are growing and they show we should stop spending money on prevention. His son died of a heroin overdose.
“The kid who’s not using might stay that way, but know the kid who’s using. I mean do you think for one second that I didn’t speak to my son about this,” he asked. After going to two treatments and asked why he didn’t think his son’s treatment worked he said, “Because he’s an addict. This is a junkie and people hate when I say that but it’s the addiction, it’s the lifestyle.”
Advocates and doctors says that addiction is a disease — something triggered in the brain that the person can’t control.
When asked why treatment doesn’t work for everyone Dr. Christopher Johnston, medical director of Endeavor House, said, “When you model it around the chronic brain disease concept. We can do brain scans, this is your brain on drugs kind of things, and we can see marked abnormalities on these scans and we can see people in treatment their brain scans after 18 months begin to be normalized. So two weeks of treatment and they’re cured? Not so much.”
One advocate said the battle does need not programs just chasing insurance dollars but real recovery, such as Barnabas Health’s Recovery Coach Program – where recovering addicts coaching overdosed but Narcan-revived addicts through recovery.
“If the substance treats the disease of self and the brokenness and you take the substance away from the person and stick them in a facility for 30 days and you don’t replace that with recovery these people want to die,” said John Brogan.
“Our children’s deaths, while tragic, are inevitable unless we find a way to find a continuum of care when they get out,” said one audience member.
The forum found consensus on reworking private insurance to cover longer stays in treatment and broadening Medicaid’s reach and dollars to fill more beds.
One advocate in the field for 40 years offered the forum glimmers of hope.
“I think we’ve come a very long way and we have a long way to go, but we’re all sharing what some of the answers are,” said Connie Greene.
The next forum is April 29.
Watch the full video of the forum here.
For more stories that are part of the initiative Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Addiction Crisis, click here.