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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.

sally February 28, 2013 at 12:49 PM
This was an amazing, eye opening presentation. Capt Paprota and Mr. Willis did an amazing job and I hope everyone who attended remembers their words and advice. These men weren't simply up there giving presentations off of a powerpoint, they felt what they preached.
WhyohWhy February 28, 2013 at 01:43 PM
I grew up in the late 60's early 70's and As a parent of two grown children who are married with small children of their own I thought I knew it all about the drugs out there, their slang, how you can buy it what it looks like and costs, etc...Not true...Capt Paprota did an amazing job giving us the "street" info we need to be "one up" on our kids. I have been very lucky to have raised two kids into fine respectful and successful adults. Some are not so lucky. This was a real eye opener. We are not alone this is going on all over and its very scary to find out we (OCEAN CO.) are in the top 3 counties with drug problems. This program should be repeated at least 3 times a year. Sadly, all the parents that cared ALREADY about their kids were there getting informed, too bad the some of the parents that SHOULD have been there weren't. Maybe next time. Again Kudos to the speakers and Task Force, great job. We have to start somewhere.
Donna February 28, 2013 at 02:35 PM
My son was not a drug abuser in high school. It was not until he was 26 with a good job, he had a horrific accident and wound up addicted to pain killers. When he couldn't get the pain killers anymore he turned to heroin. He no longer has the good job, savings, a decent vehicle, etc. He has massive health problems. Be aware, it can happen at any time. More needs to be done, also, with the pain killers that become so addicting that you can't live without them. I never thought that my darling son, one of the loves of my life, would turn into someone I barely know.
JAKE 2 February 28, 2013 at 03:11 PM
all of this has been my point... i myself was trying to get it out there .... I am so glad this took place to open people s eyes to this issue....most people dont understand how bad this issue is in our town...my daughter started with the pain pills... ( Roxy s ) at age 19... after attending Lacey HS and graduating !!! Her friends changed senior year...my husband and i are both educators , me 31 years , him 34 years... talked to my kids about the dangers of drugs and addiction.... but my daughter rthought prescription pain pills were not dangerous because they were prescribed by a doctor !!! they are legal if used correctly , but they were not... she just used them to get high and self medicate...15 rehabs later and 4 years of hell....she still battles to stay in recovery.... i have learnrd so much in this area of drug abuse , because of my daughter..... she was a popular , well rounded girl with dreams of a college education to become a teacher... no more , now she is working on staying clean and sober...she also played sports at the HS for all 4 years... so i really hope this program educated the parents on what to look for , so we can stop this hell on these kids and their families !!! and i hope these kids really learn just how dangerous this stuff is !!! thank you Lacey TWPSHIP , for that program last night !!!
Silver dollar February 28, 2013 at 03:15 PM
After attending this community meeting, I wonder how many parents got there eyes open. And how many are acting on what they learned . It was very informal ,( DRUG DEALERS BEWARE) WE ARE WATCHING YOU.
Fed Up February 28, 2013 at 03:40 PM
I missed the meeting due to work. Lacey has been in turmoil for years over the drug problems, believe me this did not just start recently. My 30 year old daughter has struggled half her life. Moved here thinking what a beautiful, family oriented town not knowing. I tried everything, called every rehab in the state. Thing is they have to WANT the help, you can't make them do it. Fortunately she is alive and doing well but still struggling. She moved away from here and goes to meetings almost every night. One thing I say to parents, if you suspect your child is using drugs then they most likely are. Most parents will blame someone else. You all need to be very aware of who your childrens friends are, where they are going, if there is a RESPONSIBLE parent at home. Our children get very convincing when they lie to us. Get to REALLY know your child because dealing with one who is an addict is the hardest thing you will ever do.
Nancy Joyce, CanUHearMe February 28, 2013 at 03:41 PM
What Dave said... I am one of the parents he knows personally who lost my daughter Allyson Joyce. What he said was extremely powerful to me. I do know my daughter is with God and in a better place (yes, I would rather have her here with me). But what he said next, about second chances. So true. We are trying our hardest to protect others so this "mass suffering" stops. Can I ask everyone who reads this to share what they read and the video with at least one person? Spread the word - speak out, speak up. A special thank you to Dave and all the speakers last night.
Captain Ed February 28, 2013 at 03:53 PM
To hear some of these horribly sad stories is just BONE CHILLING. As Parents in our mid 40's of course we both know several friends with families that have struggled with drug addiction and yet every time I hear another sad story it still takes my breath away. Even though I try to stay informed last night was an eye opener. All the presenters were great and their personal battles were really something to hear and commend them for what they went thru and were willing to share and help educate us. I surely will use it to help educate our family and do everything we can to prevent our son from getting into any kind of addiction. Lord knows it can happen to ANYONE at ANYTIME. NOONE is above it. And as far as one commentor on here and his thoughts on MARIJUANA being no big deal : I suggest you get your head out of your ass and maybe do about 5 min of research. You will QUICKLY find out how it is one of the worst drugs out there. It EASILY leads to other drugs and makes you do incredibly stupid stuff. You should just bang your head against the wall. It would be better for you and everyone else. No offense.
tr February 28, 2013 at 04:21 PM
Finally, after 3 years of preaching and trying to shame people to GO TO THE MEETING, it has worked. Thank you 800 fellow Lacey concerned citizens. The village kids are in trouble. We need to fight this ogre. Okay, finally I will say it, WELL DONE LACEY MUNICIPAL ALLIANCE!!! Now do not let down this fight, be even more aggressive. Go after the courts for more realistic sanctions against dealers not users. Your membership numbers should grow and give you more leverage for this kind of change.
BB February 28, 2013 at 05:08 PM
apparently laceyresident did not go to the meeting last night-
P S February 28, 2013 at 05:18 PM
I'm a parent from MN who lost a daughter to substance abuse - her drug of choice was alcohol. Thank you to everyone one worked on this, to everyone who attended, and especially to everyone who will take action going forward. We do not get the lost ones back, but those that are still here still have a chance. Thank you for fighting for those who have another chance. Be brave, be strong. It just can't happen again. <3 Manda <3
Captain Ed February 28, 2013 at 06:53 PM
Lacey resident, nobody is saying your an idiot. But anyone who thinks they know it all and can do everything on their own and would take NOTHING away from a seminar like that I must say could be bordering on one.
JAKE 2 February 28, 2013 at 09:34 PM
i just listened to the video..... that s why i talk about this so much... i dont want another family to suffer the way mine is due to this substance abuse problem in our town...it s a living hell.... for my daughter she has a long way to go..... im waiting for that light at the end of the tunnel....i just want my daughter to beat her addiction , anyway ... i hope this brings some light to our kids and families in Lacey..., that s all...
Lacey graduate class of 2012 March 02, 2013 at 08:23 AM
I graduatedLacey highschool in 2012 and it's a big problem that I saw first hand and was sadly apart of. I myself including at least fifty plus kids in my school i know of were addicted to all kinds of opiates. The problem with this is that you can go to school high and no one would notice. the main problem was 15mg and 30mg roxicodone imediate release pills which are snortable and just like heroin. The the biggest problem was heroin which on the east coast is sold in folded wax paper bags filled with .02-.1 grams of heroin powder with stamped markings on the bags that would basically be a way to identify what batch is what and a brand loyalty for dealers. Heroin doesn't descriminate I know plent of soccer volly ball foot ball and cheerleaders addicted to opiates during my time at highschool. I associated with two of the main drug dealers of the school who were in my grade and that i graduated with, and I had known them my entire life. They were selling massive amounts of high grade marijuana since 9th grade until graduation to almost everyone.in tenth grade they had started selling 100s of roxis 30s weekly. The sad part is they did this every day the entire four years and never got caught. They stopped currently but there's someone to take their place
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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