Annual Fall Conference

Prevention Resources (PR) and Safe Communities Coalition of Hunterdon / Somerset (SCC) held their annual Conference "Breaking Barriers to Succeed" at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) to an audience of 190 professionals. The goal of the annual conference is to raise awareness of the issues that revolve around mental health and addiction. Conference presenters included Keynote Speaker, the Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy; Anthony P. Kearns, Hunterdon County Prosecutor; Karen Widico and Lesley Gabel, Co-CEO's of PR; Jerri Collevechio, COO of PR and Conference Director, Lisa Nadine Petitt, CNC, HHC; Christopher Jakim, Assistant Special Agent of DEA's NJ Division and Commander of HIDTA NY/NJ; and Tony Coder,Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) Director of State and Local Affairs.

Keynote Speaker, The Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy, continues to fight for health care coverage for mental health and substance use disorders. Kennedy sponsored the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act with his father Ted Kennedy, which was signed into law in 2010. The Parity Act is the law which requires that health plans cover mental health and addiction health benefits the same way they cover physical health benefits. Kennedy said it is essential for the education system to screen for social and emotional health by getting a checkup from the neck up, no different than an eye, or ear screening.

Prosecutor Kearns stated, "I am honored to have been a part of this year's Annual Fall Conference. I applaud Prevention Resources as they continue to educate and bring attention to the serious topic of drug addiction threatening not only the county of Hunterdon but also the nation. The attendees were given valuable information on addiction, mental health issues, and the negative impact marijuana legalization has had in other states. The Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office will continue to partner with Prevention Resources to battle this health crisis on all fronts, awareness, prevention, treatment, and enforcement."

Karen Widico, addressed the importance of recovery as part of the continuum of care, and highlighted Hunterdon County's Recovery Support Center, which is housed in the Harvest Family Success Center, providing peer to peer coaching, sober activities, life skills, and social connections, all vital to one's sobriety.

An emotional presentation was given by Lisa Petitt, who lost her son Casey to an overdose in 2014. Lisa spoke of her son's battle with mental health from childhood and his use of drugs to cope, starting with alcohol, marijuana, and progressing to pain pills prescribed to him after a broken ankle. Lisa wonders to this day, if the doctor had asked Casey if he had a drug or alcohol problem before he prescribed highly addictive pain pills. Lisa ended her presentation with the quote, "If you take "I" out of Illness and add "We" you will have Wellness."

Christopher Jakim reported alarming statistics from the DEA: the current opioid epidemic is claiming an average of 142 lives each day across the US, and in NJ 128,000 residents are addicted to heroin/pain pills. Jakim further explained that Fentanyl, 50 -100 times more potent than morphine, has been infused in heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana, and dramatically increases risk of overdose.

Highlighting the importance of community partnerships in achieving successful outcomes, Lesley Gabel recognized Coalition partners such as One Voice, an initiative with faith leaders sharing coordinated prevention messages within congregations on a designated weekend. SCC also collaborated with Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Robertson, Empower Somerset and Middle Earth to establish a directive implementing substance abuse education as a required component of Station House Adjustments for youth arrested for drug or alcohol charges.

Tony Coder explained that today's marijuana (MJ), especially the edibles and concentrates, contain up to 98% THC; it is not the weed from Woodstock. MJ businesses in Denver are concentrated in neighborhoods of color, and arrests of black and Latino youth have increased (Colorado Dept. of Public Safety), the opposite of what MJ lobbyists said. Coder's main point was the impact MJ has on the financial cost of businesses in Colorado and how it could look in NJ: the potential dangers of operating equipment, employers forced to recruit out of state when employees cannot pass a drug test, high rates of absenteeism, and increased liability and insurance costs.

Thank You To Our Conference Sponsors!

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