NJ.com: Clergy reminded of role in aiding the fight against addiction


Fran Miceli, right, a presenter in a program about the clergy's role in fighting drug addiction, and the cast members of her role-playing skit. She asked for five volunteers to play parents and three children during a symposium in Newark. (Courtesy of Matt Scuteri Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey)
Rev. Alexander Santora/For the Jersey JournalBy Rev. Alexander Santora/For the Jersey Journal 
on December 10, 2014 at 1:32 PM

NEWARK -- “You are the first-responders for families,” Fran Miceli told the 75 clergy, staff of religious institutions and law enforcement officials at the “Do No Harm” symposium in the Newark Museum last Thursday, December 4, 2014.

The clinical director for the acclaimed Samaritan Center at the Jersey Shore, Miceli spoke about the dynamics of addiction and the impact on the family. After four decades as a counselor and state administrator, Miceli gave the liveliest talk of the day. She talked about how addiction can affect a family and how children assume roles to cover, say, for an alcoholic father.

“Comedians talk about doing something funny as a child to break tensions (in the family),” said Miceli. The highlight of the symposium for me was the five volunteers she engaged to role-play parents and three children in a dysfunctional family and how each copes. 

This was the first symposium to gather religious leaders because they have intimate relationships with people and family who may turn to them for help. “Faith-based leaders and officials are valuable resources for those suffering from substance abuse – particularly during this epidemic of opiate abuse here in New Jersey,” said Angelo M. Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey (PDFNJ) for the 23-years it has existed. The need for these symposia arose after the U.S. experienced a crisis in the abuse of prescription drugs.

“More Americans abuse prescription drugs than the number of cocaine, hallucinogen, methamphetamines, and heroin abusers combined,” said Phil Streicher, supervisor of the Tactical Division Squad of N.J.’s Drug Enforcement Administration. 

The danger for any household is that children can easily find these drugs in their medicine cabinet. Oxycodone was originally developed to treat pain for cancer patients. Opiods are the most common pills diverted for the black market and may fetch anywhere between $15 and 30 per pill.

Since 2007 N.J. has seen the drug overdose rate increase by 71% with three quarters from pharmaceutical abuse. Experimenting has begun as early as age 12. Miceli noted that with more sports teams for children, they are being pushed to perform beyond their physical capabilities and being medicated for pain. Streicher noted the overdose deaths of a dozen celebrities including Whitney Houston and Elvis Presley.

Streicher’s squad monitors and inspects the more than 46,000 DEA registrants in New Jersey that are licensed to dispense drugs, which he noted is a daunting task for the small number of inspectors. Abuse can easily creep in. For this reason, the first five symposia were directed at doctors and medical personnel so they could understand how these drugs can be diverted, according to Christopher A, Jakim, the assistant special agent in charge of the N.J Division of DEA of the U.S. Department of Justice.

He noted that several enforcement groups collaborate including the HIDTA High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, to provide assistance to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the U.S. 

This symposium was co-sponsored by the DEA of N.J. Other speakers included Rebecca Alfaro, director of Prevention and Training for the Governor’s Council on Alcholism and Drug Abuse, Patrick Rolff, N.J. Recovery Advocate for the N.J. Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and Glen King, executive director of Freedom House.

The PDFNJ was housed in Hoboken, where Valente resides, until it moved to Millburn six years ago. There are 11 employees who mount statewide anti-drug advertising campaigns among other programs. PDFNJ is a private not-for-profit coalition of professionals from the communications, corporate and government communities whose collective mission is to reduce demand for illicit drugs in New Jersey through media communication.

The PDFNJ received more than $70 million donated for broadcast time and print space. Valente said that symposia in 2015 will target health professionals and school administrators.