By John Sorce |
WEST LONG BRANCH – The heroin epidemic in Monmouth County is real and it’s a threat, says former National Football League player Christian Peter.
Peter, 44, drew upon his life experience with addiction to tell his story on Wednesday, April 26 to an audience of 250 people gathered at the Pollack Theater at Monmouth University for a forum on responding to heroin in Monmouth County. In a powerful voice he described how he turned one year of football at Middletown High School South into a scholarship with the University of Nebraska, where he was a three-year starter, the face of the “Blackshirt” defense and a member of two national championship teams in 1994 and 1995.
The New England Patriots drafted Peter in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft, but let him go two days later because of negative press that surfaced from his legal troubles in college. The New York Giants offered him “a second chance at life” when they signed him in 1997 on a clause that he attend rehabilitation for alcohol abuse. Peter straightened out his life and enjoyed a six-year NFL career with the Giants, Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears.
But his demons came back after his playing career ended. “I had no routine, no structure, and no program. I stopped going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings,” Peter said. “I started drinking again. But this time it was different than before. In addition to alcohol, I found cocaine and opioids. This cocktail of destruction ran me into the ground for three years and in 2007, I realized that I hit rock bottom.”
Though his life is not perfect these days, it is still good, he said. Today, he serves as president of The Competitive Advantage Companies and is a board member of The Tigger House Foundation.
Peter was master of ceremonies for the event that also featured Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Monmouth Medical Center Victor Almeida; Co-Occurring Disorder Specialist in Behavioral Health at Monmouth Medical Center Dennis Makarowski; and Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni. The forum, dubbed a “community conversation,” was hosted by Monmouth Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility, and WEforum, which is a female-led health awareness organization in New Jersey.
They shared some staggering facts and statistics, which caused murmurs of surprised reaction among the audience, some of them members of local police and hospital staffs.
Almeida said that despite only making up 4.5 percent of the world’s population, the United States consumes 81 percent of the world’s oxycodone and 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone. These drugs are often found in prescription medications like Percocet and Vicodin.
Doctors prescribe these medications and patients get addicted to the drugs they contain. They feed this addiction with heroin, and there is plenty of it in Monmouth County, Almedia said.
People who become addicted to opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
Gramiccioni reported that the purity average of heroin east of the Mississippi River is 31.2 percent, and it is almost double the national average in New Jersey. It is 67 percent in Philadelphia, 57 percent in Newark, and 53.9 percent in New York City. Monmouth County has some of the purest heroin in the nation because of the large markets surrounding it, and because the demand is here, he said.
In 2016, with the most recent information available, Gramiccioni said there were six homicides and 49 highway fatalities in Monmouth County. In comparison, there were 148 deaths due to heroin/opioid overdose and 164 from all other drug overdoses.
In 2015, 279 people in Middletown, the county’s most populated municipality, admitted to having a heroin addiction, the most for any town in Monmouth County. Next on the list is Asbury Park (226), Keansburg (188) and Long Branch (180). As Gramiccioni noted, these are just the people who admitted to having an addiction.
Early communication between parents and their children is their most effective tool for stopping addiction because, the earlier children are aware of the dangers, the less likely they will be to experiment with these life-threatening drugs, the prosecutor said.
Almeida advised that parents should avoid giving their children medications that contain highly addictive drugs, even if they are prescribed by doctors, and use alternatives, such as Tylenol and Motrin.
To keep kids away from prescription drugs, the state of New Jersey has what is calls “Project Medicine Drop,” which allows residents to securely dispose of their prescription pills. “These police departments have 24/7 operations. They have a thing that looks like a mailbox where you can go and safely dispose of drugs that you don’t want in your house,” Gramiccioni said.
A full list of the drop-off locations can be found at njconsumeraffairs.gov.
This epidemic is real and it is here, right in our own backyard, the speakers said.
“Heroin is threatening. It’s incurable. A life with heroin either ends with an overdose or with a continuous devotion to the drug, and nothing else,” Peter said.
This article was first published in the May 4-11, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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