Teaching Teens About Opioid Addiction

File Photo

BERKELEY – Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer and his staff had a stern message recently for any Central Regional High School students who might be tempted to use opioids or illegal drugs.

  Don’t. Just don’t.

  Billhimer and Chief Juvenile/Domestic Violence Prosecutor Anthony Pierro spoke to students in the Central Regional auditorium recently about the dangers of opioid addiction and how they can avoid becoming a victim.

  And if you are tempted, the drugs can kill you, especially if you don’t know what you are taking.

  They cited fentanyl, which is often used in combination with other drugs, including heroin. Just two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal, Billhimer said.

  “Fentanyl is a deadly narcotic that can kill you,” he said. “The smallest dose of fentanyl can kill you.”

  Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. While it was originally developed for the pain management of cancer patients, fentanyl is also used illegally by adding it to heroin to increase its potency, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s website.

  “Many users believe that they are purchasing heroin and actually don’t know that they are purchasing fentanyl – which often results in overdose deaths,” according to the DEA. “Clandestinely-produced fentanyl is primarily manufactured in Mexico.”

  The two men showed a large map of New Jersey during a PowerPoint presentation, with the worst areas for illegal drugs highlighted in bright red.

  “Unfortunately for us, there is a lot of red, especially in Ocean County,” Billhimer said.

  Fentanyl is so dangerous it has also sickened police officers if they are exposed to it during drug arrests, he said.

  Both men emphasized that help is available. Anyone who has an addiction problem can simply go to a local police station in Ocean County or even approach an officer in a police cruiser and ask for help. They will be given assistance immediately.

Law enforcement gave a presentation at Central Regional High School about the dangers of drug use. (Photo by Patricia A. Miller)

  But if you don’t ask for help, and you’re found with drugs, you will be prosecuted to the “full extent of the law,” Billhimer said.

  Do you think vaping is harmless? Think again. It’s not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes.

  “The whole thing is about addiction,” Pierro said. “We have created half a million more nicotine addicts.”

  Big tobacco companies who produce e-cigarettes aren’t your friends, he said.

  And teenagers are more likely to become addicted to vaping.

  When inhaled, diacetyl causes bronchiolitis obliterans – more commonly referred to as “popcorn lung” – a scarring of the tiny air sacs in the lungs resulting in the thickening and narrowing of the airways.

  While the name “popcorn lung” may not sound like a threat, it’s a serious lung disease that causes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, similar to the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to the American Lung Association’s website.

  Both men told the sad story of Jesse Morella, a North Jersey man who went to a party one night when he was sixteen and snorted heroin.

  Jesse is now a quadraplegic. He can only communicate with a letter board. He can only eat through a tube. The young man wears diapers and is totally dependent on his parents.

  Prior to trying heroin, Jesse had only smoked marijuana.

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Patricia A. Miller began her career in 1984 as a reporter at the Asbury Park Press. She covered a variety of towns in Ocean County and wrote an award-winning column, "Ocean Diary," each week. She later spent seven years at Greater Media Newspapers and served as managing editor of the Edison/Metuchen Sentinel, the Woodbridge Sentinel and the Brick Township Bulletin during that time. Pat spent the last 8 years as a local Patch editor. Pat has won a number of awards during her time as a journalist, including the New Jersey Press Association, the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists and the North Jersey Press Club.