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Red Night Out: Drug Abuse Hits Home in Lacey [VIDEO]

Nearly 800 people attended the township-wide event to educate the community on drug abuse

It started with marijuana, followed by pills; then cocaine and eventually heroin.

Steve Willis’ son Mark had gone from being “wonderful” to only caring about his next fix. He had gone from boy scouts to a courtroom at just 14, as his father pressed criminal charges for possession of drugs, criminal mischief and theft.

“If addiction is in my family, and all the madness that flows from it, it may be in yours,” said Willis at Lacey Township’s Red Night Out, an event created to educate the community on drug abuse.

Willis, a local attorney, struggled to effectuate a meaningful consequence for his son. He tried punishment, talked to teachers and had family counseling. Nothing worked.

“I thought I was a good parent. I mean, I am,” he said. “It was the most humbling experience of my life. I’m a man and an attorney, which means I think I can fix everything. But I couldn’t. I kept wondering how it was that I became an ineffectual parent all of a sudden.”

When his son stood before the judge, with an offer of jail or treatment, Mark said, “I have the God given right to get high,” ultimately finding himself in juvenile detention.

His son later agreed to rehab, returned to addiction when he was released, but is now a recovering addict.

“Mark has been the toughest client I’ve ever had but ultimately, I’m blessed and pleased to tell you that he got healthy and he remains so as I speak to you tonight,” Willis said.

‘This is Our Problem’

Nearly 800 people attended Lacey’s Red Night Out, held at Lacey Township High School Wednesday night, to listen to stories like Willis’ and hear from experts in the field.

In 2012, there were 43 drug overdoses in Lacey Township, 10 of which resulted in deaths, Capt. David Paprota said.

“That’s a lot of people dead in Lacey Township,” he said.

Just two months into 2013, there have been five overdoses with one death, remaining on par or possibly exceeding previous years, he said.

“Youth today are dealing with a lot more than our generation ever did and I think they’re hungry. They’re hungry emotionally and spiritually,” Pastor Linda Applegate said. “They’re turning to drugs.”

As a member of the Lacey Township Task Force, Applegate helped coordinate the event. But Applegate wasn’t there as a representative of the Lacey United Methodist Church or even a member of the Task Force, but as someone who has been directly affected by addiction.

Applegate has had to face all the “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” scenarios after the death of a family member as a result of addiction, she said.

“I’m here to tell you Lacey’s youth is amazing and there is great potential and possibility for each one of them and we don’t want to lose one more at all,” she said.

A photo of a lighthouse was projected on stage and the audience identified the landmark as Barnegat Light.

“If we can so easily recognize this landmark, how can we so easily miss what’s going on in our homes?” event moderator Dr. Dennis Pontani said.

Approximately 40 percent of teenagers think prescription drugs are safer than heroin and cocaine, he said. Only 50 percent of kids think prescriptions are addictive. More than 40 people die daily from taking a prescription drug. Every day 1,500 American youth take a prescription pain reliever to get high.

“We can make a big change just by changing what we’re doing at home,” said Pontaini, adding that more than 70 percent of prescription drugs come from the home and friends of the addict. “When you go home tonight, the first thing to do is clean your house.”

Drug abuse is not a socioeconomic issue, said Pontani, who has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 20 years. More than 88 percent of those drug abusers in 2011 were white.

“This is hitting all of us right here at home,” he said. “This is our problem.”

From 2006 to 2011 there was an increase of 5,000 hospital admissions due to heroin and opiates. But what’s startling, Pontani said, is that 35 percent of all admissions were in Ocean and Monmouth Counties. 

Enforcement is Not Enough

The signs of drug abuse show in an addict physically, behaviorally and psychologically, Pontani said.

Other ways to remain aware and vigilant is by staying current and educated, Paprota said. For example, knowing the terms used today. In Lacey, marijuana is particularly referred to as weed, refer, 420, bud, pot, steez, steezin, danks, midz, chronic and grass.

Lacey residents are using everything from marijuana, prescriptions and ecstasy to meth — although not widely used — cocaine and heroin. One of the 10 deaths in 2012 was due to crack.

Lacey also has dozens of its own dealers, who are attempting to supply for their own habit, Paprota said. While locally, a bag of heroin may cost $10 to $15, kids are traveling to Trenton, Atlantic City and Neptune to get it for cheaper.

“We do hold people accountable. We have an aggressive approach to enforcement, especially with respect to heroin, but that’s not enough,” he said. “It’s not enough to go out and arrest dealers because there’s supply and demand. If there’s a demand for anything, there’s always going to be a supply. That’s just a fact.”

Paprota reflected on a story that happens all too often. Years ago, there was a young, well-rounded girl from a good family, who began dating a troubled boy. Her mother denied the possibility of wrongdoing when warned only to find herself weeping at the police department when she learned her daughter was addicted to heroin and prostituting herself in Lakewood, he said.

“More important at this point, for your kids, for yourself, for your family, is obviously what we’re doing here tonight — getting the information out, prevention, recognizing issues,” Paprota said. "The number of people here tonight tells me there is a chance to make a difference in what's going on."

Chris Pyne has two kids, 11 and nine years old, and said she enjoyed each of the presenters but the statistics were alarming. 

“Education is going to be helpful to me as they get older,” she said. “It hit home how prevalent the problem is in Lacey Township.”

Residents can find helpful resources, crime alerts and a tool to submit anonymous crime tips on the Lacey Township Police Department’s website.

Prescription drugs can also be dropped off at the police department 24/7 for disposal.

Call 800-662-HELP to find substance abuse and mental health treatment. Also, visit the Ocean County Health Department’s website for assistance.

The Department of Children and Families can also offer help at 1-855-INFO-DCF.

Lacey graduate class of 2012 March 02, 2013 at 08:34 AM
The cops need to go in civilian cloths and sit on the side of wawa, seven eleven with a coffee and watch how many drug dealers they can bust because that is where a majority of deals happen. Walmart and shop rite parking lots have just as many drug deals. Heroin is sold in every part of this town so if any of you parents think your in a good part, your wrong. Most of you were not in this drug scene so you don't realize hat goes behind the scene that goes unnoticed by cops and teachers. The two main dealers I mentioned were clean cut kids who did extra ciriculars had a lot of friends and were in the SMART classes and never got introuble . This is why they never got caught because they didn't fit the stereotype of the drug dealer. I am a recovering addict and I struggle every day not to relapse. All the parents need to make sure that your kids do not start painkillers. Marijuana is harmless so you should be glad that your son or daughter comes home with red eyes eating all the snacks rather then coming home with pin point pupils. nodding out itching like they have flees
tr March 02, 2013 at 05:08 PM
@Lacey graduate class of 2012-- if you are real--stay tough! You have hit your bottom and face the demon everyday. Remember if you relapse- you die. Fight everyday for no one but THE MAN IN THE MIRROR!!! That is the only person that you can count on to beat the demon. Remember to always be truthful to the mirror and the mirror will help you win the fight. I hope you are a real person and you read this post. How do I know where your at, because you don't know where I been, get where I'm comin' from!!! I will not say good luck, it has nothing to do with it. I will say, never let down your guard, trust no one, fight to win, get tougher, be brutal--look in that mirror and be your own hero.
JAKE 2 March 03, 2013 at 08:00 PM
Lacey Graduate !!! all i can say is i know !!! im living it as parent.... your right , you cant tell if your child is high , i learned and figured it out when she started stealing....but the eyes are a dead give away parents.. their pupils will be pin point when yours are not !!!! if their eyes are light it stands out like a sore thumb....loosing weight and itching and rubbing their faces !! yes my childs was the roxy s !!! snorting... anyway , enough of that...... please stay strong .... remember, people , places and things... stay away from the old !!! fight and want to stay clean more than anything else...and yes , which i have been saying all along . nope its not the kid hanging out at 3am , its any child , athlete , scholar , be so aware, any changes in your child , start really paying attention ,, the sooner its caught ( addiction ) the better !!!
Anthony Zoppina March 05, 2013 at 06:18 PM
Good going people from Lacey ! Stay informed and stay involved ! And the authorities have to react when theses kids are juveniles ! Don't let them off easily ----- that's the time they need to learn it isn't worth it ... it will lead to disease, death, jail ....
Anthony Zoppina March 05, 2013 at 06:31 PM
One ironic thing tho .... When someone gets into trouble, it is the attornies that will start mailing prospective clients so that they can attempt to lessen the consequences through the court system. We need to stop letting money rule the courts and allow justice -- fair and effectual to all -- and the desire to turn these people around ..... let these be the ruling elements of the court system.

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