Like most towns in the United States, Robbinsville Township has its share of drug issues. But, unlike many of its counterparts, Robbinsville’s municipal government has decided to force the issue to the forefront.
That strategy will continue April 5, when the Robbinsville Municipal Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse hosts “A Frank Community Discussion of Opioid Addiction.” The 7 p.m. town hall meeting will feature a schedule full of speakers, as well as a question-and-answer period. Early response had been so overwhelming in mid-March that the event had to be moved to a larger space, at the township senior center on Route 130.
Municipal alliance coordinator Jodi Stephens said she expects about 150 people to attend. It’s a long-needed discussion, she said, and people in Robbinsville need to become aware about the problem of opioid addiction before it takes greater hold in the township. There have been at least three deaths from opioid overdoses in Robbinsville since 2014, according to statistics from the Heroin/Opiate Task Force of Mercer County. Police had to use opioid antagonist Narcan—which can temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose of drugs like heroin and Oxycontin—in Robbinsville six times in 2016. So far in 2017, they’ve used it twice.
“We’ve realized this has been a problem for a long, long time,” Stephens said. “We’ve done some things to get in front of it, like Robbinsville CARE. But a lot of people are in denial that there’s a problem here. We [in the government] know there is a problem, but we want to wake parents up to it.”
Robbinsville CARE is a program launched last year that was introduced as a partnership between Robbinsville’s municipal government, police department, municipal alliance, addiction nonprofits like Recovery Advocates of America and City of Angels, treatment centers and medical professionals. CARE is a systematized approach to dealing with heroin addicts from the first moment of police contact. It seeks to break the cycle of addiction—and the need for police to respond to it—by offering people caught with or using an opioid the chance to speak to an addiction counselor and even to enter a treatment center.
In the first seven months of the program, eight of the 19 arrestees who were offered intervention accepted and received treatment. Three of those eight did not have health insurance, but received aid through Recovery Advocates of America scholarships. Since Robbinsville introduced the program in January 2016, similar programs have launched in Ewing, Hopewell Township and West Windsor. Bordentown Township plans to launch its own CARE program this month.
Police Sgt. Scott Kivet will speak about CARE on April 5 in one segment. He will also lead a discussion about the signs of substance abuse.
Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri will talk about the county’s approach for tackling the opioid epidemic. Paul Ressler, the head of The Overdose Prevention Agency Corporation, will educate attendees about Narcan and New Jersey’s Overdose Prevention Act. Representatives from the Robbinsville school district will share how the district is dealing with the problem. Recovery Advocates of America’s Diana Dubbs will share her experiences as an addict in recovery. Kevin Meara from City of Angels, whose son KC died of an overdose, will talk about what it’s like to lose a loved one to drugs. Attorney Thomas Halm—who also is school board vice president—will talk about the legal ramifications parents face when they host parties with drugs and underage drinking.
There also will be an opportunity to sign up for free training on how to dispense Narcan.
Stephens said a number of people have come to her with recommendations for additions to the town hall meeting, but there’s only so much content she can squeeze into one evening. Instead, April 5 could be the first of a continuing series.
“This is not going to be the end of the conversation,” Stephens said. “This is the beginning. It’s my hope that we open up the subject.”