• Guest Blog from Hope and Healing after an Addiction Death

    Posted 9/11/2017 by Angelo M. Valente

    In the midst of the opioid epidemic ravaging our country, it’s important to stop and remember the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and loved ones who have lost their battle with addiction. As it was discussed at the first four Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Halls, the stigma of addiction is a large barrier in effectively addressing the opioid epidemic, but vigils and other remembrances honoring overdose victims help break that stigma. Below is a guest blog from Gail Cole, who helped establish Hope and Healing after an Addiction Death following her son’s overdose death in 2014. To find out how you can get involved in helping to address the opioid abuse epidemic, sign-up for a Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall at Join the conversation and be part of the solution in your community.


    Candlelight Vigil in Bergen County Honors Those Who Have Lost Battle with Addiction

    By Gail Cole


    As the heroin and opioid epidemic continues its path of devastation across the country, it is important to take a moment, and remember all those lost to the disease of addiction. On January 4, 2014, I lost my beautiful son, Brendan, to an accidental heroin overdose at age 22. There are no words to describe losing my son, but suffice it to say that my heart has been irreparably broken, my life changed forever, and my mind still filled with disbelief and endless questions.


    In 2015, I co-founded a bereavement group named Hope and Healing after an Addiction Death, along with Lani Bonifacic. In the perfect world, this group should not have to exist, but it does and has become an incredible community of wonderful people, all walking the same indescribably difficult journey through grief. We call it the "crappy club," one that no one wants to belong to...but here we all are. Most of the tragic losses have been related to opioids and heroin. 


    Last year, Hope and Healing held a Candlelight Vigil to honor those who have lost their battle with addiction, to promote hope and healing and eliminate the stigma and shame associated with the disease of addiction. We thought that we might have 50 people; we were overwhelmed when 250 people showed up, including family, friends and many community leaders. People who attended were shocked by the multitude of people suffering losses, but many felt they had found a home, a safe place to cry and honor their loved ones, and left knowing that they were not alone in their grief. It was incredibly heartwarming to see the community come together and support those suffering with deep grief. It was a huge step towards eliminating the stigma and shame.

  • Back to School!

    Posted 9/6/2017 by Angelo M. Valente

    Good luck to all the New Jersey students heading back to school this week – and to their parents and educators!


    It’s the time of year that both children and parents experience a wave of emotions, from sadness that summer has ended to nervousness at the start of a new school year.


    However, this is also a time of great excitement as the new school year ushers in new friends, new challenges and new experiences in children’s lives.


    The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey offers education and awareness resources to schools, families, and communities, and I invite you and your school district to sign up for these initiatives today. 


    Sign up today for the 15 Minute Child Break and the 5th Grade Parent Alert. Both are aimed at parents, providing them vital facts and resources. Teachers/school districts click HERE to request 5th Grade parent alerts. PDFNJ is currently inviting fourth grade students to submit artwork for the 2018 Fun Things To Do Instead of Drugs Folder contest. More than 7,000 students entered last year’s Fourth Grade Folder Contest, submitting artistic prevention messages that displayed the creativity of New Jersey students. The two winners chosen during the spring will have their work displayed on folders being distributed to fourth grade classes throughout the state for the 2017-18 school year. Please encourage your school district to participate in the 4th Grade Folder Contest by clicking HERE


    Of course, every school needs a music program, and PDFNJ’s efforts in schools would not be complete without New Jersey Shout Down Drugs high school music competition, which is gearing up for the 2018 school year. For the past 13 years, talented students from all over New Jersey have written original songs focusing on prevention, culminating in the annual Prevention Concert. At the end of a night filled with great performances and inspiring messages, three winners are chosen to continue to spread their message in performances during the following year.


    As the opioid misuse and abuse epidemic continues to impact our state, I also encourage students, parents, school officials and any other citizen to become part of the conversation to address this issue at a Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall event, or to join the efforts of October 6th’s Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day.


    I wish you all a great school year!

  • Limiting Dental Opioid Prescriptions Key in Fighting Epidemic

    Posted 8/30/2017 by Angelo M. Valente

    When it comes to the discussion on establishing safer prescribing practices among members of the medical community, one group that often is omitted from that conversation is dentists.


    However, dental professionals in New Jersey have taken a proactive approach in helping to address the opioid epidemic.


    Last fall, the New Jersey Dental Association (NJDA) released guidelines to its members on safe prescribing and dosing of prescription opioids. The NJDA also was proactive in promoting dialogue between dentists and their patients on the addictive nature of opioids and possible alternatives that exist for treating pain.


    Further efforts are on the horizon, as the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey is planning a Do No Harm Symposium for dental professionals sometime this fall.


    The article below, which appeared in The Roanoke Times earlier this month details how the attitudes on prescribing of a dental professor at Virginia Commonwealth University changed following the overdose death of his 21-year-old son in 2014.


    “This is the only disease created by doctors,” said Dr. Omar Abubaker told the publication. “And it could be fixed by doctors.”



    VCU professor who lost son to overdose aims to change opioid prescribing practices


    A picture in VCU Health’s ambulatory center downtown looks, from a distance, like a tree.


    “But if you get closer,” said Dr. Omar Abubaker, “you see it’s actually a collection of faces and images. To me, the opioid epidemic, both to clinicians and to the public, it’s from a distance. If I say, ‘Opioid epidemic,’ the first thing you think about are the graphs, the number of people that died, the statistics.


    “For those of us that are affected, it’s about faces, memories, sons and daughters.”


    Abubaker is the chair of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Dentistry’s Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. He has been with the school for more than 25 years and, for most of his career, he was like every other doctor when it came to prescribing opioids: It was a habit.


    But all that changed in September 2014, when his son died of an overdose of heroin, an illicit opioid drug.


    The experience radically shifted not just Abubaker’s personal life, but his professional one, too.


    Suddenly, he wasn’t seeing the opioid epidemic in terms of charts and graphs and startlingly large annual death numbers, including 1,133 in Virginia last year. He was seeing his 21-year-old son.


    And he knows — probably as well as anyone — how providers’ prescribing practices have fed the opioid epidemic. Though he isn’t certain what caused his son, Adam, to use heroin, he does know he was probably over-prescribed opioid painkillers following surgeries when he was a teenager — the same drugs that Abubaker used to frequently prescribe.


    “Both in medicine and dentistry, the Hippocratic Oath says, ‘Do no harm,’ ” Abubaker said. ‘In fact, ‘Do no harm,’ comes even before, ‘Do good.’


    “So the ‘Do no harm’ part comes down to how we stop prescribing medications as much as we have in the past.


    “And the ‘Do good,’ is to see if our society — or any of us — can do something to make this better, to help the families affected.”


    Providers have already started changing their prescribing practices, with federal data showing a dip in the most popular painkillers beginning around 2013 in Virginia. The state is also beginning to see fewer prescription painkiller deaths. In the first quarter of 2017, 113 people died from prescription opioids, down from 124 who had died at the same time last year.


    But people cut off from the painkillers they grew addicted to have turned to illegal versions of the same basic drug in the form of heroin and fentanyl, offsetting any progress made on the prescription side. There were 127 heroin overdose fatalities so far this year, compared with 110 last year. The deadlier drug fentanyl is killing even more people — 190 so far this year, compared with 145 this time last year.


  • Guest Blog from PICK Awareness

    Posted 8/25/2017 by Angelo M. Valente

    Reducing the stigma surrounding substance misuse and supporting those in need of help as they battle the disease of addiction is key to addressing the opioid epidemic. Below is a guest blog from Donna DeStefano of PICK Awareness that explores one option moving forward in New Jersey. 


    N.J. Recovery Support License Plates: Bill A-5061
    By Donna DeStefano, PICK Awareness
    Governor Chris Christie has placed the spotlight on “Second Chances” for people dealing with substance use disorders. He understands that New Jerseyans deserve a chance to reclaim their lives.
    It’s no secret that we are in the midst of the worst opiate epidemic this state has seen. Unfortunately, losing your family, your home and your health insurance are most times associated with this disease.
    One day I was driving behind a car that had a “Conquer Cancer” specialty license plate. It was a particularly tough day because I had received a phone call from a mom who needed sober living resources and funding for her son. This call was one of many requests that I have received over the years. Having been there myself trying to find sober living housing for one of my own daughters I was so frustrated that I started to cry!  
    Then it hit me! Why not have N.J. “Support Recovery” license plates! Not only would it provide a sustainable funding model, but it would also provide awareness and help reduce the stigma! The sales of special interest license plates have made a significant difference in supporting various groups. Did you know that New Jersey currently has 6,179,318 drivers (according to That is a lot of license plates! 
    Well, the idea wasn’t so cut and dry and here’s why:
    The criteria that had to be met and was required from the Division of Motor Vehicle Commission states; that there is a $50,000.00 fee for the production of the license plates. It couldn’t be state or public funding. There must be 500 individual signatures supporting the bill and lastly, a legislator had to write and propose the bill. I’m excited to say that ALL criteria have been met!

  • Resources Help Parents and Students Understand Dangers of Drug Use at College

    Posted 8/22/2017 by Angelo M. Valente

    It’s hard to believe, but my oldest daughter already returned to Providence College for her sophomore year. I know I’m not alone among parents who will be watching their children either return to school or embark upon their continuing education for the first time as freshmen.


    College can be an overwhelming time for children and parents alike as students adjust to a new environment and new challenges. The presence of drugs can further complicate that transition.


    Young people (ages 18 to 24) are already at a heightened risk of addiction, and the combination of stress, heavy workloads, peer pressure, curiosity and other factors only amplifies that risk.


    Fortunately, there are valuable resources that can help both parents and students understand the dangers of drug use and the ways to prevent abuse for teens heading off to college.


    The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey delivers relevant information for parents at ParentCheckNJ.Com, a website that features a quiz for parents to test their knowledge on both binge drinking and opioid misuse.


    Another resource available is the new website,, launched by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) focusing on preventing and educating on college drug use.


    The DEA created the website in its latest effort to support drug abuse prevention programs on college campuses and their surrounding communities. The website offers a one-stop resource for professionals including educators, student health centers and student affairs personnel, who work to prevent drug abuse among college students. It also is beneficial to college students, parents and others involved in campus communities.

  offers valuable information, including data, news updates, drug scheduling and penalties, publications, research, national and statewide conferences and events, state and local prevention contacts, and resources available from DEA’s federal partners. The website also includes a “Help a Friend” resource to educate and prepare those who plan to talk to friends or loved ones about drug use concerns.

  • Training Sessions for Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day to be Held in August

    Posted 8/10/2017 by Angelo M. Valente

    Today, President Trump declared opioid abuse a national emergency.

    The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey is continuing its efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, most notably through the second annual Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day being held on October 6th.

    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 New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Addiction Services; and the Community Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Morris.

    The single-day initiative, held in communities throughout the state, will mobilize families, members of the prevention and treatment communities, community leaders and concerned citizens to raise awareness of the potential for dependency on prescribed pain medicine and the link to heroin abuse rates in New Jersey. The effort will focus on both informing physicians and raising awareness among New Jersey residents.

    Last year’s event (then called Knock Out Opiate Abuse Day) achieved great success as more than 2,000 volunteers statewide delivered important messages on opioid abuse prevention to healthcare providers and to residents in their communities.

    The initiative earned statewide acclaim, as the Senate and General Assembly passed a joint resolution declaring October 6 as Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day in New Jersey in perpetuity.

    PDFNJ will be at the CDC’s 2017 National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media, next week, sharing the success of the 2016 Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day.

    Following this week’s release of a report showing that overdoses have hit a record high, with mortality rates 24 percent higher for opioid overdoses and 22 percent higher for heroin overdoses than previous reports, we all have to work together to stem this epidemic.

    I invite and encourage you to participate in the 2017 Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day. Sign up today to be connected with the volunteer coordinator in your community, or attend a volunteer training that will be held over the next few weeks, in Morris County on August 15, and in Gloucester County on August 30.

    Sign up today to be part of the solution to knock out opioid abuse in New Jersey. 

  • National Opioid Commission Recommendations Mirror Work Already Being Done by PDFNJ

    Posted 8/2/2017 by Angelo M. Valente

    The Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis delivered an interim report to President Trump earlier this week, urging him to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency.

    With an average of 142 Americans dying every day from opioid overdoses, the commission, headed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, argued that such an action would open up avenues to more effectively combat the issue. 

    The report also included several other recommendations for stemming the opioid crisis, some of which are currently being carried out through the work of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

    One of the recommendations focuses on further educating prescribers, stating, “Mandate prescriber education initiatives with the assistance of medical and dental schools across the country to enhance prevention efforts.… HHS should work with partners to ensure additional training opportunities, including continuing education courses for professionals.”

    The report cites the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which estimates that, not including federal prescribers who are required to be trained, fewer than 20 percent of the more than 1 million prescribers in the United States licensed to prescribe controlled substances have been trained on how to write prescriptions for opioids.

    PDFNJ has been active in efforts to change prescribing habits since 2013, when it began its Do No Harm symposium series informing prescribers on the dangers of prescribing opioids and the links to heroin abuse. Of the nearly 4,000 prescribers who have attended one of the symposiums, 95 percent said they intend to make opioid prescribing changes or what they learned at the Do No Harm event to their practice.

  • New Law Informs Athletes’ Parents on Dangers of Opioids

    Posted 7/27/2017 by Angelo M. Valente

    The state of New Jersey recently passed a new law that requires school districts and private schools offering interscholastic sports or cheerleading competitions to provide information on the dangers of opioid prescription drug use to parents and guardians every year.


    The legislation is an important step in helping parents make the best decisions for their children when they potentially could be prescribed an opioid. It is crucial that they understand that opioid painkillers can be highly addictive and that there are other alternatives to managing pain caused by sports injuries.


    Student athletes are a particularly vulnerable group when it comes to opioid misuse. Studies show that male athletes are twice as likely as the general population to be prescribed prescription painkillers and four times more likely to abuse them.


    There is also a link between prescribed painkillers and heroin abuse, as nearly half of young people who inject heroin reported abusing prescription opioids before using heroin. Research by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey has found that nearly a third of parents with middle school children are unaware of that link.


    The Partnership has worked and will continue to work with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association and other partners, including the Garden State Pharmacy Owners, to collaborate on ways to better inform parents of the dangers prescription opioids can present to their student athletes.


    The Partnership also has begun spreading the word about the dangers of opioid abuse through the second annual Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day, which will be held Oct. 6. The first training session for the event was held via webinar on Wednesday.


    The statewide single-day initiative will mobilize families, members of the prevention and treatment communities, community leaders and concerned citizens to raise awareness of the potential for dependency on prescribed pain medicine and its link to heroin abuse rates in our state. The effort will have a dual focus: educating physicians and raising awareness among New Jersey citizens and families.


    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 New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Addiction Services; and the Community Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Morris, with thousands of volunteers across the state.

  • Reel in Some Summer Fun in PDFNJ’s Don’t Get Hooked on Drugs Fishing Tournament

    Posted 7/20/2017 by Angelo M. Valente

    It’s the middle of July, and children’s initial excitement at the dawn of summer possibly has dissipated as we approach the dog days of the season.


    With more free time on their hands, children are more vulnerable and sometimes make poor decisions, which increases the importance of enjoying fun summertime activities as a family.


    Kids who communicate regularly with their parents about their daily activities are 67 percent less likely to be involved in substance abuse than children who have little or no communication, according to research conducted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.


    PDFNJ’s Third Annual Don’t Get Hooked on Drugs Online NJ Family Fishing Tournament is a perfect activity to keep children engaged while also spending valuable time together as a family.


    To participate in the contest being held Aug. 4-13, entrants must be 18 years old or younger, New Jersey residents and be accompanied by a parent or guardian while fishing. Participants then have to snap a photo of their family enjoying a fishing trip and post it with the hashtag #drugfreenj. The photo must include the youth participant and a parent or guardian.


    Pictures can be posted by liking PDFNJ’s Facebook page at PartnershipForADrugFreeNewJersey or by following PDFNJ on Twitter (@drugfreenj) and Instagram (@drugfreenj).


    All entries must be submitted no later than Aug. 13. Winners will be selected at random on Aug. 17 and will be eligible to win up to $600 in cash prizes.


    Take advantage of the warm weather and head to the nearest lake, river or ocean to share a memorable family moment. 

  • CDC Report Finds Mixed Results for Opioid Prescribing in New Jersey Counties

    Posted 7/12/2017 by Angelo M. Valente

    Since the opioid crisis began to grip New Jersey and our nation, one of the crucial goals in stemming the tide of addiction was addressing the overprescribing of pain medication. The good news is that the number of opioid prescriptions decreased nationwide from 2010 to 2015. The bad news is that doctors gave out longer prescriptions and the average strength of prescriptions was still high, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released last week.


    The report also revealed that the number of prescriptions in parts of New Jersey remained high. An report detailed the disparity in prescriptions written across the state’s 21 counties.


    While the rate of prescriptions per person dropped in 10 counties from 2010 to 2015, it increased in nine counties and did not change in two others, the report said. The totals are measured in “morphine milligram equivalents,” or MME, “which measures the total dosage of opioids while correcting for differing strengths among different drugs.”

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