The battle vs. opioids continues

Education Awareness on Drug Dependency (EADD), a Kearny-based volunteer grassroots group, is continuing its campaign to contain opioid abuse in the community.

Committee member Kim Luciano said EADD is targeting its next meeting slated for Aug. 22 at 4 p.m. at the Kearny Emergency Rescue Squad, 314 Maple St. for young people ages 11 to 16 and their parents.

Those attending will hear a guest speaker, get a tour of the facility and snacks, she said.

Luciano appeared before the town governing body at last week’s meeting to stress the importance of the group’s mission.

It seems particularly relevant now that President Donald Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency following a recommendation made by the Presidential Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis led by Gov. Chris Christie.

Luciano told the mayor and council that the KERS has been responding to “between 15 and 20” calls involving opioid overdoses per week.

In May alone, she said, opioid abuse reportedly accounted for five deaths in Kearny.

“Our focus is on prevention,” Luciano said, and, in that context, the group is particularly focused on “reaching the younger kids.”

In most cases, Luciano said, individuals become over-reliant on prescription opiates and then drift into illegal and cheaper but more dangerous drugs heroin cut with different types of opioids like fentanyl to get the relief from pain (or high) they’re seeking.

“Doctors should prescribe these types of drugs for shorter periods of time,” Luciano said, as a strategy for preventing patients abusing those drugs.

“We’ve been reminding people to ‘mind your meds,’’’ she said, and teens are advised not to pillage their parents’ medicine cabinets to experiment with opiates.

Many people struggling to get help don’t have an insurance plan that would get them into a treatment program so EADD has been using its contacts to find those folks assistance, she said.

“So far, we’ve gotten 10 people into treatment,” Luciano told The Observer.

But it hasn’t been easy, particularly with the fledgling group operating, “basically, out of my living room.”

Luciano told The Observer that EADD hopes to get certified as a 501(c)3 nonprofit “so we can raise money for scholarships for treatment for families who can’t afford counseling.”

Additionally, she said the group wants to set up a satellite office possibly on the second floor of the KERS modeled after the Morris County CARES program, where volunteers can advise opioid abusers.

But that could happen, she added, only if the volunteers go through a nine-week certification program to become “intake training specialists” and refer clients to the appropriate resources.

“We also need to get our firefighters trained as Narcan dispensers because, as part of the town’s first responders, they should be prepared to deal with an opioid overdose situation,” she said.

Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle, who attended one of the prior public meetings sponsored by EADD, told Luciano that she got an education by listening to the “serious questions” raised by many of the 40 attendees.

“I think you’re doing a great job,” Doyle said.

Mayor Alberto Santos also lauded Luciano and EADD for providing a “much-needed service” to the community, “but the tide keeps coming,” he said, noting that opiate dependency is a scourge that afflicts people of all ages and all economic strata.

“In 2016,” the mayor said, “there were more people who died from opioid overdoses in the U.S. than the number of [U.S. soldiers] who died in Vietnam.”

Let’s remember, said Councilwoman Susan McCurrie, the opioid crisis is happening “not just in Kearny,” but everywhere. “It’s decimating communities.”

And, because many people who are dealing with drug dependency are reluctant to come forward because they fear being stigmatized, EADD is performing a valuable function “by opening a dialogue” on a taboo subject “and that’s really important,” Councilwoman Eileen Eckel said.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.