A host of town officials, clergy, educators, law enforcement professionals and parents gathered Thursday night for the Parsippany Municipal Alliance Committee's Drug Prevention Leadership Summit. The event, which allowed attendees to brainstorm on ways to stop drug abuse in the township, took place at the Knoll East Golf Club.
Mayor James Barberio kicked off the program, which he said was aimed at addressing "serious problems that can happen in the best of families."
"The methods employed to get high are getting more creative," the mayor said. "It's imperative for us to know what kids are dealing with. We've seen firsthand what Parsippany families have faced and the destruction that drugs can cause. ... We have to relay the message that being cool doesn't have to end with drug addiction."
Annelise Catanzaro, chairwoman of the MAC, which exists to prevent drug abuse, mentioned that the town recently has experienced "multiple, very tragic losses" thanks to drug abuse.
She introduced Ptlm. Earl Kinsey, a 10 year veteran of Parsippany Police, who offered a presentation detailing facts about the drugs some teens are doing.
He noted that while most think kids are abusing alcohol and marijuana, the past few years have shown a "huge rise" in the use of pills—everything from sedatives . Many teens, he said, help themselves to the legally prescribed medications in their parents' medicine cabinets.
Kinsey said that the problem is so pervasive that the town's high schools have earned new nicknames: Pillsippany High and Par-Pills High. And he said the problem exists in middle school as well.
The patrolman then surprised many in the audience, declaring that more teens than we might think are using heroin.
"This summer, there were three lethal overdoses of heroin in Parsippany," Kinsey said. "There was another earlier in the year."
Additionally, police and emergency medical services teams have responded to "numerous non-lethal overdoses."
He noted that heroin in New Jersey "is some of the strongest you're going to see," and can cause the user to seize, stop breathing and die.
But he said many kids turn to heroin because it is much less expensive than prescription drugs.
He said a single oxycodone pill can run about $30, while a hit of heroin, purchased in Paterson or Newark for $5-$7, can go for $10 in Parsippany and other suburbs.
Kinsey said the drug abuse can lead to other crimes when the abuser has to come up with money to pay for his or her next fix. The crimes can range from people stealing jewelry, video games and even baby formula from family members to residential burglaries and smash-and-grab robberies involving vehicles. He said often electronics—GPS systems and smartphones—are taken and sold at disreputable pawn shops or to inner-city bodegas.
"Most of our jewelry shops and pawn stores are reputable, and they follow the law, but others aren't, and they'll melt down items as fast as they can," he said, adding that often the addict will take whatever pittance is offered for a stolen item. "All they need is $10 for heroin."
Kinsey said reducing drug abuse will require finding effective deterrents and enforcement measures.
After the police officer's presentation, the audience was divided into groups for discussions facilitated by MAC members. At each table, participants investigated questions regarding why young people do drugs and potential solutions for encouraging teens to just say no.
Many attendees said the problem starts at home and stems from bad behavior or inattentiveness of parents. They also blamed peer pressure, glamorization of alcohol and drug abuse in media and celebrity worship.
Potential solutions suggested included pushing accountability through stiffer penalties for youth and parents; encouraging adults to be better role models; putting more school resource officers in schools; educating parents, seniors and youth about the realities of drug abuse and its consequences; and instituting anti-drug youth groups.
"The summit was an important step toward tackling a serious and complex problem," said Catanzaro, who said she was pleased by the large turnout. "It is our hope that the MAC summit will provide us with new approaches and ideas for addressing substance abuse in Parsippany, and energize our committee as we look ahead to planning for 2013 and beyond."