Lecture at PAC sheds light on growing heroin and opiate epidemic

On the evening of March 3, the Princeton Police Department, Corner House, Princeton Alcohol and Drug Alliance, and Princeton Health Department held a heroin and opiates awareness event for the Princeton community. The event, “Heroin and Opiates: They’re Here,” took place in the PHS Performing Arts Center as a result of the growing drug epidemic in New Jersey.

The event covered several topics, including prevention, treatment options, and revival of someone overdosing on heroin and opiates. The talk also featured legal consequences of taking heroin or opiates. “The purpose of the presentation was to inform and make aware to the community some of the issues that are leading to the heroin epidemic in New Jersey, [to ensure] that people know that it exists, in every demographic and every neighborhood, but especially in middle-class, affluent communities and to suggest solutions as to what people need to do to solve the problem,” said Michael DeLeon who led the discussion as a representative from Steered Straight Inc., an organization that works to promote awareness of the drug-related issues across the state.

According to Dan Smith, Clinical Director of Corner House and also a member of the panel discussion, the use of heroin and opiates in New Jersey has particularly affected the state’s residents within the past couple of years, showing the government that there needs to be a change. “Coming out of the coroner’s office, there have been wave after wave of attempts to intervene for folks, so that rather than going to jail or ending up dead by overdose, [we want people to know] there’s always a way to prevent drug use, connect people with treatment, so this is not something that came out of nowhere. The governor’s office has been pushing reforms for a decade—especially expansion of the drug courts,” Smith said.

According to the New Jersey Department of Criminal Justice, heroin-related deaths in the state have risen from 306 in 2010 to 781 in 2014. “Drug-awareness events need to happen all the time. This is something that needs to take place all throughout the state on an ongoing basis and to continue implementing solutions and talking to students about the dangers of drugs,” DeLeon said. “The problem is getting worse, and we need to continue fighting drugs [on every front].”

Recognizing that every community should know about the drug issues in the state in which they live, the entire community of Princeton was given the opportunity to become educated and aware of the risks of heroin and prescription opiate abuse through the presentation. “It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t get talked about easily, but it is somewhat discussed and [the event] was just a way to tackle something that has been with us but not discussed in depth, and give the community a venue to talk about it [the problem posed by heroin and opiates],” Smith said.

Smith also noted that when it comes to the root of the problem with the abuse of opiates, the presentation focused on how ‘casual’ and pervasive the issue of painkiller prescription abuse is. Many physicians feel that painkillers are being overprescribed, leading to addiction and other health concerns. “I believe that people feel that heroin is not as dangerous as it used to be, and I feel it’s even more dangerous today, so I think the misconception of heroin being a ‘safe drug’ is a very dangerous notion for our youth. It’s a major problem, and we need to stay on top of it, rather than act as though our youths are not engaging in this activity,” said gym teacher Sheryl Severance. “[Students] need to know what’s going on in the world with heroin and know that they are not exempt from the harm of the drug.”

Despite the threat of heroin and opiates to the Princeton community as part of the statewide epidemic, Severance feels drug education at PHS is helping to mediate the problem. “If you don’t know the consequences, you don’t know the side effects, you don’t know the dangers, how will you ever make an educated decision? I believe PHS is on top of the problem, but I also believe we could always do more.”

For students struggling with drugs, Smith reported that private assessment and treatment options are available through Corner House and through insurance coverage that can be reached anonymously through the doctor’s office or by contacting district drug officials. “The only sure way to prevent the development of a substance use disorder is to never put the substance in your body, and that applies to all substances, not just opiates and heroin,” Smith said.

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Graphic by Emily Han

Michelle Wang (Visuals Contributor)

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