Atlantic County drug summit shows the heroin, prescription pill epidemic does not discriminate (VIDEO)

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Laura Stetser/From left are the panelists at the “Suburban Substance Abuse Summit 101” held at Egg Harbor Township High School: father Eric McKinnies, his daughter Jamie McKinnies, addiction clinician Erin Cowley, paramedic David Mendoza, Egg Harbor Township Police Capt. Chris Ruef, Somers Point Police Chief Michael Boyd, Edward J. Olwell, a program director for Lighthouse Recovery in Mays Landing, and Dr. Barry Glasser, medical director of the John Brooks Recovery Center. Laura Stetser/From left are the panelists at the “Suburban Substance Abuse Summit 101” held at Egg Harbor Township High School: father Eric McKinnies, his daughter Jamie McKinnies, addiction clinician Erin Cowley, paramedic David Mendoza, Egg Harbor Township Police Capt. Chris Ruef, Somers Point Police Chief Michael Boyd, Edward J. Olwell, a program director for Lighthouse Recovery in Mays Landing, and Dr. Barry Glasser, medical director of the John Brooks Recovery Center.

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – Sixteen-year-old Jamie McKinnies was just a curious kid when she took her first sip of alcohol three years ago.

 “I heard about people getting high, and about the wonders of acid and what it was like to smoke marijuana, and drink a beer and get drunk, and I found it intriguing,” said the Egg Harbor Township High School sophomore publicly during Atlantic County’s first-ever drug summit Monday, June 9, an event organized to open the dialogue on the growing problem of prescription pill and heroin abuse in the county.

She said she began drinking more each month and by the time she was 14 she started smoking weed. “I smoked every day- before school, after school. It was a breakfast, lunch and dinner thing.”

 By 15, McKinnies, the daughter of a father who spent 27 years as a defense criminal investigator, said she added pills that were found in her parents’ medicine cabinet. “I would take Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycodone, anything I could get. I started crushing them up and snorting them to get the best possible high. I didn’t want anything to interfere.”

 Her good grades began dropping, and her relationships with family and friends grew strained.

 Her family placed her in a drug treatment program, but she admitted she was determined to keep using.

 By the time last summer rolled around, McKinnies said she heard her friends talking about using heroin and in September, she stuck a needle in her arm and shot up for the first time.

 “I thought it was the best feeling ever,” she admitted as she sat among the panelists and shared her story to the crowd of about 140 concerned residents, parents, educators, legislators, treatment experts, community leaders and law enforcement professionals.

 She quickly realized however that the euphoria was not sustainable, but she was already hooked.

“The more I did it, the sicker I got,” she said. She was at an unhealthy weight, threw up frequently and became disgusted with herself. “I knew what I was doing could kill me, but it didn’t matter because I was taken away by what the drugs had given me.”

 After her parents took away her phone as a punishment for an unrelated matter, they discovered what their teenage daughter had been doing, her father Eric explained. “What we found on her phone changed our lives forever.”

 “In all my years when I was the ‘investigator,’ I thought this is not going to happen to my children. My children were brought up very well. I was blindsided, as was her mother. This doesn’t discriminate. If you’re not on top of the social media spectrum- Facebook, email, iPhones - it will get you.”

The issue is not exclusive to Egg Harbor Township.

 Somers Point Police Chief Michael Boyd said his town is also seeing a spike in illegal use of prescription drugs and heroin.

 These used to be city problems, he explained. “Now we can walk a block and that’s where we are getting our heroin. It’s expanded that much.”

 He said the ages of drug users has shifted considerably younger, so law enforcement and schools must be vigilant in discussing the dangers of drugs with students as young as seventh and eighth grades.

Boyd said after a recent assembly where 900 middle school-aged students from Somers Point, Linwood, Northfield, Margate and St. Joseph’s Regional School heard from Chris Herren, a recovering drug addict and former professional basketball player, it was evident this demographic is dealing with the epidemic.

 “To see at the end of that program the outpouring of emotion really showed what kind of baggage these young kids are bringing to school every day and will bring into your high schools. It’s a tidal wave of problems.” Laura Stetser/Northfield Pediatrician Dr. Albert Dearden explains to the panel that he sees in an increase in children wanting to ‘feel numb.’ Laura Stetser/Northfield Pediatrician Dr. Albert Dearden explains to the panel that he sees in an increase in children wanting to ‘feel numb.’

 During the public portion, Northfield pediatrician Dr. Albert Dearden said there is growing trend among children to “feel numb,” and he hopes the experts can come up with “sign posts” for parents and teachers to help them recognize earlier when a child is headed on a path similar to McKinnies.

 In December 2013, her parents forced her into a two-month residential rehabilitation program, and despite her strong objections at the time, the recovery gave her a new chance at life.

“Recovery is the best thing ever to happen to me and not just with getting clean.”

 She is rebuilding relationships with her family and friends. Today she is focusing on her studies. 

 Other panelists included addiction clinician Eric Cowley, also a recovering addict, longtime paramedic David Mendoza, Egg Harbor Township Police Capt. Chris Ruef and treatment professionals Edward J. Olwell and Dr. Barry Glasser. The event was sponsored by the Join Atlantic County Together coalition and was moderated by radio personality Harry Hurley. A second summit is planned for the fall.

 Many other aspects of this growing epidemic were covered at the summit such as the need to treat addition as a disease, the availability of Narcan, a drug which stops overdoses from opiate drugs, early education and intervention, community involvement and how those struggling can get the assistance they need through school, county and private-sector programs.

Check back for additional and continuing coverage.

Read more:

County expected to authorize use of Narcan for heroin, pill overdoses

Countywide summit on prescription pill, heroin abuse set for June 9

Egg Harbor Township experiencing startling increase in heroin use

 

 

 


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