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Heroin dominates discussion among Bergen County educators, law enforcement pros

Photo Credit: above
Photo Credit: above
Photo Credit: above

SPECIAL REPORT: The agenda for Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli’s 11th annual conference on law enforcement issues affecting schools had several topics, but heroin dominated discussion.

Today’s heroin is so addictive that “just trying it is not a possibility,” Detective Don Ingrasselino ( photo, above ) warned teachers and administrators during Wednesday’s conference at the Venetian in Garfield.

Many teens and young adults have already taken a path to heroin from Oxycontin, Oxycodone and Roxicodone – all easily accessible, high-dosage pain killers, he said.

More than 400 educators and law enforcement officials gathered to discuss bullying and school shootings, among other topics. But the greatest attention was paid to the two greatest drug-abuse threats — heroin and prescription medication.

Authorities report 15 heroin overdose deaths in Bergen County the first four months of the year, compared with 28 for all of 2012. Yet they say that awareness isn’t as widespread as it should be.

Today’s heroin is packaged this way

“It’s hitting everybody,” Police Chief Timothy McWilliams of Saddle River. “And parents are shocked.

“Kids now have access to cheap opioid drugs,” McWilliams said. “You can get a little packet for $5.”

The enormity of the epidemic struck Marissa Moore, a guidance counselor at Immaculate Conception High School in Lodi. Although she hadn’t witnessed any cases, she said, “I now have an idea what to look out for.”

Ingrasselino and others offered warning signs — teens who want jobs in cash businesses, for instance, or those who disappear during very early or very late hours.

RELATED: Bergen prosecutor offers help to addicts, warns of penalties for drug-induced deaths

Although the talks were ostensibly geared to the audience of K-12 educators, some of the discussion – and, indeed, many of the stories shared – were about teens who are legally adults or out of high school.

This only underscores the need to reach them early.

“The younger a kid starts using, the more likely he or she is to incorporate it into a lifestyle,” said Ellen Elias, the vice-president for prevention and addiction services at Children’s Aid and Family Services.

“What may look like not a big deal can become a big deal,” she added.

Teenage drug addiction is such a complex situation that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution — or diagnosis, said Dr. Anthony D’Urso of Hackensack University Medical Center.

“Don’t get intoxicated by conduct,” he warned.

Bad behavior could mean many things, D’Urso explained.

Those youngsters who create problems may have more stress in their lives, or less ability to handle it, which makes it unwise to make assumptions, he said.

“We must start being careful about labeling kids who are disruptive without thinking of underlying issues,” D’Urso said.

Depression and substance abuse do not necessarily run together, he said, noting that a youngster could have a substance abuse problem but not be depressed or have behavioral issues — and vice versa.

Ingrassileno was optimistic.

“Kids are willing to talk,” he said.

And adults are getting more involved.

Molinelli referred to sessions being held at high schools throughout the county that are drawing increasingly large numbers.

In a rare step for a lawman, the prosecutor extended the services of his office, without criminal charges, to anyone whose children, siblings or spouse have drug problems. At the same time, he warned parents that that their children could be prosecuted for sharing a drug — even a single Oxycodone pill — that kills someone.

Molinelli got the message out through a series of open letters which, like Wednesday’s conference, were financed with money forfeited by criminals.

“We’re never going to arrest our way out of the narcotics issue in this world,” the prosecutor said, “so we have to find a better way.”

Stephanie Schwartz

AUTHOR Stephanie Schwartz (@mediadissector) loves technology, television and media.

RELATED: Bergen prosecutor: ‘Whole new approach’ to fighting drugs yields sellers, buyers

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