Frank Talk About Opioid Abuse Among Youth

August 11, 2017
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Fair Haven Police Patrolman William Lagrotteria tells a gathering of Fair Haven parents and residents about the growing epidemic of opioid and controlled substance abuse occurring in area communities.

By John Burton |

FAIR HAVEN – Put aside those notions of the Rumson-Fair Haven “bubble,” says Fair Haven Police Patrolman William Lagrotteria.

The truth of the matter is opioid and other substance abuse does happen here on the peninsula. “It affects us as well,” he said.

Lagrotteria took this lesson and other information to residents in a program he presented at Knollwood School, 224 Hance Road, last Thursday evening (July 27).

Before an audience of approximately 15 in the borough’s middle school, Lagrotteria laid out what statistics indicate and what his professional experience with the department has shown him of how this epidemic is infecting this affluent suburban area.

In his professional experience, “It’s coming from kids going into medicine cabinets,” getting ahold of prescription pain medications they and family members have received from doctors, using them for what they thought would be recreational use and getting hooked, he said, “leading down that rabbit hole to heroin addiction.”

The three major drug groups youths would likely abuse, Lagrotteria explained, are depressants, stimulants (which would include anxiety, seizure and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medications) and barbiturates.

The easy availability of these drugs has led to “rainbow parties,” which are, Lagrotteria told the gathering, parties kids have where pills of every variety and color are thrown in bowl and taken indiscriminately by the party-goers. He personally knows of police breaking up two such parties in Rumson in the last year.

ADHD drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, already widely prescribed for adolescents, are being sold to other youths. For those who don’t have the medical condition, these drugs give users heightened focus and attention, and are used by some to concentrate on grades and college applications. “They’re showing the same effect as someone who is taking crystal meth or cocaine,” Lagrotteria said. These drugs, he added, are now used by some girls as appetite suppressants, as a substitute for forced vomiting and other tactics for eating disorders.

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Kids are selling the drugs for upwards of $20 per pill. “It’s incredible the amount being passed off in the high school,” he said.

Lynn Regan, who now runs a substance abuse recovery program, relates her experiences deal-
ing with her son’s addiction and working with other families facing similar situations.

Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in Rumson is a sports-oriented school, said Lagrotteria, who coaches varsity football there. He pointed out that many students play multiple team sports during the year. “They’re so active,” he said of the kids, “they’re eventually getting injured,” which can lead to pain medication prescriptions.

“I can’t begin to tell you how powerful these drugs are,” he said, pointing to the commonly prescribed Percocet or Oxycodone, which he said some kids will snort as well as swallow. Three out of four of those with heroin addiction admit to starting by using a pain medication, Lagrotteria noted. And when it comes to heroin, “Guess what?” Lagrotteria asked, “It’s very easy to get.”

Lagrotteria was not alone in voicing the stark realities. He was joined by Lynn Regan, originally from the borough who now lives in Howell and runs an addiction recovery program, adapting hard-learned lessons to treat her clients.

Regan knows the suffering of addiction or having a loved one go through it.

“Unfortunately, we all know someone who went through this,” she said, telling the experiences she had with her son, Daniel. “You don’t want to be part of this club,” she said.

Her son, as a teen, started smoking marijuana, which motivated Regan to take him out of public school and enroll him in a private Catholic high school, hoping to get him away from a bad element. In high school, however, her son soon graduated to abusing prescription pain medications. And even though he eventually won a full scholarship to college, he continued his downward slide into addiction, stealing jewelry and other things from family members to pay for his habit. That resulted in numerous rehab stays and admissions to various treatment programs – all failing to change her son’s behavior, Regan said. Ultimately, her son almost died in a rundown Los Angeles motel, with a needle dangling in his arm. “Addiction follows you wherever you go. It destroys you,” she said.

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Looking back, she has come to realize “love is blind,” and you may not see the symptoms right in front of you. She recommended looking through your child’s clothes. If you find things like small pieces of aluminum foil, little plastic bags, or hollowed-out ballpoint pens (used to snort drugs), these are telltale signs, as are weight loss, a loss of interest in things that had been a passion, and sullenness.

“If you’re not aware of the signs, it can happen to you,” she warned.

Her son, Daniel, who is now 26, eventually turned his life around through a program he completed in California – a program covered by the family’s “platinum” health insurance plan, which would now cost $135,000 a month, Regan said. He has been clean and sober for six-and-a-half years, she said.

She has started a program, Coming Full Circle: Loud N Clear Foundation, working with families on prevention, intervention and recovery. She has worked with 7,500 families through CFC Loud N Clear. “My mission was always to help parents to avoid the pitfalls I fell in,” she said. And that involved some tough love: drug testing your children if you suspect illegal use. And maybe more importantly, talking with your children, she recommended. “The best place to have a conversation with your kids,” she advised, “is in the car. They’re trapped.”

Lagrotteria is a 10-year veteran with the department, grew up in Rumson and serves as the department’s juvenile officer. He established the program with fellow Patrolman Dwayne Reevey and hopes to encourage residents to help pass along the information. Lagrotteria said he would be willing to offer the presentation for schools or community groups.


This article was first published in the August 3 – 10, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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