Volunteers Go Door-To-Door To Fight Drug Abuse

Jessica Purdy was one of many volunteers bringing awareness of the opioid epidemic to neighborhoods. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

BRICK – Thousands of volunteers in New Jersey delivered door hangers containing information about opioid abuse prevention to thousands of homes for the second annual Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day.

The event took place on Friday, Oct. 6. In Brick, volunteers spread out to deliver the door hangars, along with a bag to be used for the disposal of unused prescription medication that could be brought to a drop box at the police station.

Opioids are medications that relieve pain, and in 2016, some 2.75 million prescriptions were prescribed for them in New Jersey, according to statistics provided by Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey. Nearly half of young people who inject heroin abused prescription opioids before they started using heroin.

Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn

Lifelong Lake Riviera resident Jessica Purdy, 38, organized Knock Out Abuse Day for the township. As a patient advocate for a detox facility – Discovery Institute in Marlboro – Purdy is uniquely qualified since she is in long term recovery after being a heroin addict from the ages of 14 to 29.

As the mother of five children, she was able to quit her drug use habit during her pregnancies, but relapsed four days before giving birth to her fourth child.

Purdy had taken Vicodin to help with pain resulting from kidney stones. When she gave birth, the hospital tested her meconium for opiates since she had a history of drug abuse, so the Division of Youth Services got involved and Purdy was only allowed to have supervised visits with her newborn.

“That was my rock-bottom, but it was also my saving grace because I went to an inpatient treatment center for 31 days, and then I had intense outpatient treatment, and I have been clean ever since,” she said.

Purdy became involved in BMAC (Brick Municipal Anti-Drug Coalition) after attending a substance abuse forum in Toms River last year and was seated behind Brick Mayor John G. Ducey.

Door hangers and bags for prescription drugs have information written on them to help educate the public. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

“I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if I could have a meeting with him, that I’d like to get involved with community awareness and share my knowledge and experience,” Purdy said from Lake Riviera, where she was distributing the door hangers.

The next day she got a call from the mayor’s office and a meeting was scheduled with the mayor, Brick Police Chief James Riccio, Business Administrator Joanne Bergin, BMAC Chair and council liaison, Andrea Zapcic.

“They gave me a position in BMAC, which meets once a month,” Purdy said. “I told Andrea about Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day, and she asked me to organize the day for BMAC.”

About 15 volunteers fanned out and distributed some 1,500 hangers and bags to neighborhoods in Lake Riviera, Baywood, Sawmill, Maple Leaf and Birchwood Park.

Purdy said that if you suspect that your child is using heroin, or any drug, including alcohol (which is also a gateway drug, and a “big red flag” for opioid abuse, she said), the first thing you should do is purchase an over-the-counter 12-panel drug test from a pharmacy.

“The results are instant, and then you have to confront your child,” she said.

Most parents don’t know what to do, but there are many local parent-to-parent resources and support groups. Purdy said Nar-Anon is a great organization for helping the family of a substance abuser.

“It’s very important to stop being an enabler. The addict needs an emotionally supportive family. Don’t give them money. Don’t drive them to their drug dealer’s house,” she said.

An estimated 2,000 people died of an opioid overdose in 2016. People can die just from sniffing heroin, Purdy said.

Councilwoman Zapcic had 300 homes to visit on Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day to hand out door hangers and bags.

“I spoke to some people who were outside, and the response was very, very positive. People were appreciative,” she said in a phone interview the following day.

A BMAC grant requires that the committee develop environmental strategies to combat opioid abuse, which include changing policy and creating consequences.

Jessica Purdy was one of many volunteers bringing awareness of the opioid epidemic to neighborhoods. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

For example, BMAC has gone to local pharmacies, which now staple informative literature to bags containing prescription narcotics, Zapcic said.

Doctors may no longer prescribe more than a five-day supply of opioid pain relievers, and they must have a conversation with their patients about the potential of opioid addiction, she said. Patients are also encouraged to get unused medications out of the house.

Zapcic said Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day is part of an ongoing effort by the township to address the opioid problem. Other initiatives include the formation of BMAC; school-based programs such as DARE, Lead & Seed, and #NotEvenOnce (a new interactive course, presented to high school students by the township police department); the prescription drop-off box, and more.

Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day is a project of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey in cooperation with the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse; the NJ Department of Human Services, Division of Addiction Services; and the Community Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Morris, and thousands of volunteers across the state.

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Judy moved to Ocean County from New York City in 1988, and began her second career as a feature and news reporter in the mid-1990's. She has worked for Micromedia Publications since 2008, primarily reporting for The Toms River Times and The Brick Times. Judy has also worked for The Leader Review in Point Pleasant Beach, The Brick Communicator and The Asbury Park Press. Reach Judy by e-mail at [email protected]