TOMS RIVER – Local students are looking at things in a new way after a program showed them what it’s like to be under the influence of various chemicals.
In the center court of the Ocean County Mall, the Healthy Living and Education Expo had hands-on activities set up where students could learn the dangers of impaired driving.
This is an annual event, and students from eight local high schools and Ocean County College attended, said Peter Curatolo, chief of administrative services for the Health Department. This year, they expanded the program to include partners in health fields that have been weaving a net of services designed to catch people falling through the cracks. These included Hackensack Meridian, RWJ Barnabas, Deborah Heart and Lung, Atlanticare, Urgent Care Now, Senior Services, and the Prosecutor’s Office.
Monmouth Medical Center’s Southern Campus in Lakewood had a booth where they had to walk a line wearing goggles that made it seemed like you had a concussion.
Leeanne Cheung, from Toms River High School North, told a reporter “It made me very dizzy. The line was moving. You should try it!”
One booth was manned by AAA, where visitors were asked to complete certain tasks while wearing goggles that duplicate driving under the influence of marijuana.
“Marijuana affects everyone differently,” said Frank Neary, traffic safety specialist for AAA. “These goggles take one piece of information away and you can see people taking their time to make decisions.”
Stephanie Galeana, Toms River High School North, was one of the students attempted the tests. She attempted to draw a line through a maze, and every time she went through one of the maze’s walls, Neary said “Crash, crash, crash…”
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Galeana said. At first, she thought the tasks were easy. Then, she took off the goggles and saw how bad she was doing.
Lacey High School students Jillian Gallicchio and Melissa Roake took turns wearing goggles that imitated the feeling of being drunk.
“It was very disorienting. It was like I just woke up, and didn’t have my glasses on and also I fell out of bed,” Roake said.
Two-time Super Bowl champion, former New York Giant David Diehl was the guest speaker. Instead of a jersey signed by an athlete, he was given a shirt signed by various local officials.
He said there is an expiration date on athletics, and that a lot of athletes don’t know what to do with their life after their sport is over. They miss the camaraderie and being part of something that people cheer.
“I was the oldest guy in the locker room at 33,” he said. “Your athletic career is not going to go on forever.”
Some turn to opioids to give them a boost, or to kill the pain, and slowly it becomes an everyday thing, he said. These are people who are on your team and you rely on them for your safety, and they are under the influence.
He encouraged people to do little things for others. Simply asking them how they are doing and listening to the answer can show a person that someone cares.
Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said that they are bringing back the Kimberly Smith Ames campaign. These were billboards placed on major roads showing a woman in a bridal gown. She and her unborn child was killed by a drunk driver in 1998.
The Healthy Living and Education Expo was described as a “One-Stop-Shop” wherein the public could garner information on addiction, driving safety, healthy living, access to care, Diabetes prevention and patient education.
The event included clinic services with screenings for glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol and free educational materials.
Those who had questions were able pose them to the “Ask an Officer” program. Attendees were able to improve their health I.Q.by speaking with health professionals on-site and even able to make an appointment for care.
Ocean County Public Health Officer Daniel E. Regenye, and 9th District Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf who serves as director of administration and program development, Ocean County Health Department were also present.
Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer and Ocean County Health Department Chief of Administrative Services Peter A. Curatolo were also present along with educators, elected officials, students, local businesses, law enforcement, RWJBarnabas Health, Deborah Heart and Lung Center, Hackensack Meridian Health, Atlanticare and members of the military.
-Bob Vosseller contributed to this story.