LAKEHURST – He was at work when he got the call.
Borough Resident Jermaine Jackson heard his brother’s voice on the other end.
A childhood friend was dead.
It was heroin.
Jackson was a high school athlete, a transplant from Jersey City to Lakehurst in his elementary school years. He never touched drugs, but drugs were touching his life in tragic ways, through friends, classmates, coworkers, and members of the Jackson side of the family, still in Jersey City.
A righteous indignation filled him; as a follower of Jesus Christ, he knew there was hope. He knew the answer was to love his neighbors as he loved himself. He knew he had to shine light on the darkness of addiction, to let those in bondage know they truly were not alone, not hopeless.
He has seen people trying to fix their brokenness with drugs.
“There are other ways to get over the sadness. There is this brokenness that is in families, and affects generations,” Jackson said. ‘We want to prevent that, so people don’t feel like they’re alone.”
The Lakehurst Community Center on Center Street was bursting to capacity, filled with people from infants to grandmothers. They came on February 4 to hear hope.
This was Jackson’s first rally. His message, emblazoned on T-shirts distributed to his audience, was a simple one: A Positive Heart Makes A Positive World. We Are All One.
“He is a proactive young man who has a good heart. He wants to do so much for this community,” Dennis Adams, Manchester Township High School principal, said. But today, he was there as assistant pastor of Harmony Ministries in Lakehurst.
Adams preached from Ephesians, an epistle of the Apostle Paul, who spoke of persons “darkened in their understanding” (Eph. 4:18) and wrestling against spiritual forces that keep people in the dark (Eph. 6:12). There is a spiritual element to addiction, Adams said, one that must be prayed against.
“Love people, that’s what it comes down to. We’re not better than others,” Adams said. “If you are full of God’s love, you want to find ways to love people.”
People matter, and their inner demons can be conquered by the love of Jesus Christ, Adams said.
Just the night before, Narcan revived a girl who had overdosed, Manchester Patrolman Joseph Fastige said. He, along with School Resource Officer Chris Cerullo, Detective Adam Emmons and Ptl. Keith Craig, developed an opiate awareness program they named #NotEvenOnce.
The program, the first of its kind in the state, targets 12th graders for opiate-awareness education. The students learn statistics, recovery, and first-hand account of a Manchester graduate now in jail for heroin use.
According to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, the number of overdose deaths rose, as did the number of overdose reversals from Narcan. The statistics include: 2012, 53 overdoses; 2013, 112 overdoses and in 2014, 101 overdoses. The county began using Narcan in April, and had 129 reversals.
In 2015, there were 118 overdoses and 272 Narcan reversals in Ocean County. 2016: 197 overdoses and 502 Narcan reversals. The prosecutor’s office noted that the number of overdoses will likely increase to more than 200 as toxicology reports come in.
Fastige said lifestyle choices – using gateway drugs such as marijuana and alcohol, or abusing prescription drugs – are the two biggest influences to becoming an addict. And it’s not an inner-city problem alone. Twelve of those fatal overdoses in 2016 happened in Manchester.
“There are dealers in Manchester selling drugs,” Fastige said.
Addiction destroys more than the addict. Another speaker, who referred to herself as “Sister Shante,” works in Cooper University Hospital in Camden. An addict herself, she buried four children and has worked with children as young as 9 years old battling drugs and alcohol. One patient she works with, a 22-year-old woman who was infected with HIV from drug use, has full-blown AIDS and would likely not make the weekend.
“The first one is free,” Sister Shante told the audience. But sometimes, the first hit is their last. “Mothers and fathers, talk to your children before the police do.”
She encouraged the audience to report known drug dealers and users to their police department’s non-emergency line.
Jackson plans to hold another rally in Manchester in March.