Going from prescription pain killers to heroin addiction is a much smaller step than most believe, and it’s important to be informed about that reality.

Community leaders got an education on drug abuse at the Cumberland County Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin conference on Wednesday, hearing from experts about just how prevalent the issue is.

“We have an epidemic going on in this state,” said Douglas Scott Collier, a drug initiative coordinator and law enforcement liaison for the state attorney general and a speaker at the conference. “It’s pills fueling our heroin issue that we’re having and we need to have education and awareness.”

Vineland is not immune to the issue and was ranked in the top 10 cities for heroin abuse cases in the state, according to the state Department of Human Services Division of Addiction Services.

Across the state, Cumberland County was also reported as having the highest annual rate of prescription drug abuse without a prescription.

“We want to educate the public about this problem that can affect everybody,” said Jennifer Webb-McRae, Cumberland County prosecutor.

“What I’m struck by is the fact that it knows every gender, it knows every age, race and socioeconomic level. We just want to take a holistic approach in Cumberland County to make sure we’re touching our educators, our medical professionals, our law enforcement professionals so that we are approaching this problem from all different aspects and all different areas.”

Officials from local hospitals, service organizations, school districts and local governments were in attendance at Wednesday’s event to learn more about the growing addiction problem.

The conference was hosted by the Cumberland County Healthy Communities Coalition, Salem-Cumberland Regional Action Toward Community Health Coalition and the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office.

Additional sponsors included the Cumberland County Municipal Alliances, Cumberland County College, Inspira Health Network and the Southwest Council.

Visitors received a certificate for attending the education conference.

Another guest speaker at the event was Michael DeLeon, chair of the Cumberland County Healthy Communities Coalition and founder of Steered Straight.

“Most of the people that I’ve interviewed got to heroin through pills,” he said.

What normally happens, according to DeLeon, is that people get addicted to their prescription pain medication. Once they no longer have a prescription or can no longer afford to purchase them illegally, they turn to heroin.

“It’s cheap, it’s everywhere, it’s potent and it’s almost impossible to kick,” he said about heroin.

And the problem won’t go away, according to DeLeon, until the children are educated about the dangers of addiction.

“The only way this problem is going to be solved is to work together,” he said.

Along with the special guest speakers, there was also an open panel discussion about addiction. The panel was moderated by Millville Vice Mayor Jim Quinn and made up of Parent-to-Parent Coalition member Tonia Ahern, Millville Police Department Lt. Jody Farabella and Melissa J. Niles, assistant director of the Cumberland County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services First Step Clinic and Programmatic Alliance coordinator for Cumberland County.

Wednesday’s conference was designed to educate professionals about drug abuse, however, there will be another conference for parents that will also be held at Cumberland County College on May 28.

Original Article: http://www.nj.com/cumberland/index.ssf/2014/05/community_leaders_learn_about_link_between_prescription_pill_addiction_and_heroin_at_conference.html

By: Don E. Woods