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Monday, March 30, 2009

2009 Legislative Event

Each year, we try to focus on a public policy issue of special interest to the community during our annual Legislative Event. This year, we are tackling critical questions regarding the mandatory minimum drinking age. Is 21 Working, and is 18 the Answer?

I recently wrote a Letter to the Editor to area newspapers noting that high-risk drinking by college students needs to be viewed as a community issue. No one person, group, or institution is responsible for the problem, nor are any viable solutions likely to come from a single source.

College is a time for students to not only acquire knowledge and earn a degree, but to form character. In extremely few social settings other than a college drinking party is drinking alcohol to the point of gross intoxication seen as a feat to aspire to. Thankfully, by senior year, the vast majority of students have come to this same realization and adjusted their behavior accordingly. It is our most vulnerable students, the incoming freshman, who need the most guidance and oversight regarding their drinking behavior. How can we do this better?

Some would say that even opening a discussion on the legal drinking age is irresponsible. I disagree. 18 - 20 year olds deserve better than, “Just do as I say.” While the empirical facts of the issue may make the 18 or 21 question a “no-brainer” for many; real life makes it anything but simple answer. The discussion needs to be held openly and with respect for both sides of the issue. It is my hope that tonight’s forum provides just as an opportunity for learning. What better place to host this event than at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, in its primary student center?

Steven G. Liga
CEO & Executive Director

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hold Harmless Legislation

Following is Steve Liga's testimony on March 12, 2009 before the NJ Legislative Committee hearing on the 911: Hold Harmless Legislation.

Thank you, Chairman Johnson, and members of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee for holding this important hearing. My name is Steve Liga, the Executive Director of the NCADD of Middlesex County. NCADD is the Middlesex County member agency of the New Jersey Prevention Network. I am here today representing the New Jersey Prevention Network (NJPN) and its member agencies which offer a statewide network of substance abuse prevention agencies, one in each of New Jersey’s 21 counties. NJPN offers comprehensive resources and expertise, while our local member agencies ensure that evidence-based prevention programs and services are provided in every county, personalized and customized to meet the specific needs of the communities they serve.

NJPN is the lead agency in the statewide Childhood Drinking Coalition that has been actively addressing the problem of underage drinking in New Jersey for many years. With a CD Coalition in every county also lead by the local NJPN member agency, we have been educating youth, parents and the community about the dangers of underage drinking. Our efforts have also included environmental strategies that have identified and promoted policies, ordinances and laws that create a clear message to our youth that would deter underage drinking. Some of these strategies provide consequences to our youth to serve as deterrents to their use and abuse of alcohol. The NJ Private Property state law enacted in 2000 gave NJ municipalities the permission to enact an ordinance making it unlawful for an underage person to possess or consume an alcoholic beverage on private property. (NJSA 40:48-1.2) Over 200 communities throughout NJ have passed these ordinances. We are currently advocating for these policies to be statewide. These types of strategies have shown to be effective in reducing this dangerous behavior among our youth. Though these strategies are effective, there is also an unintentional consequence to these policies that A-3160 addresses.

NJPN believes A-3160, the 911: Lifeline Legislation is a vital step toward reducing senseless deaths and injuries associated with underage drinking. Every year, at private parties and on college campuses, youth are drinking excessively. And sometimes, a

friend passes out or starts getting sick. And often, their friends do nothing for fear of the legal consequences. Rather than calling for help, they try and comfort the friend or perhaps put them to bed. And sometimes these actions have deadly consequences. The Lifeline legislation encourages young people to call for help in an event of an alcohol-related medical emergency, because it ensures they will not face legal consequences because of their drinking or possession of alcohol.

I commend Assemblyman Gordon and Assemblywoman Angelini for their foresight in introducing this important legislation to prevent the needless harm and possible deaths that may occur if our youth do not call for emergency assistance. The high rates and consequences of alcohol use, abuse and binge drinking among our youth have been well documented on the national, state and local levels.

These drinking patterns often include large quantities of alcohol that often lead to alcohol poisoning. The most difficult part of saving an adolescent from an alcohol overdose does not occur in the emergency room, nor does it involve a complex medical treatment. The most difficult aspect of an overdose case involving adolescents is for them to decide to act. Evidence shows that youth, in many cases, will fear getting themselves or their friend in trouble, and refrain from calling emergency services.

In a random survey conducted by Arizona State University, 6,000 undergraduates and 1,500 graduates were asked what would lead them to decide whether to call for help for someone passed out or is too incoherent due to consuming too much alcohol. The survey found that 47.6% responded they did not know what to do while 35.5% feared getting their friend in trouble.

Colorado enacted similar legislation in 2005 due to concerns about underage binge drinking deaths. Colorado’s legislation provides immunity for underage persons and one to two others who are acting with the minor, from criminal prosecution for illegal possession or consumption of alcohol by an underage person if:

The underage person calls 911 and reports that another underage person is in need of medical attention due to alcohol consumption,
  • They provide their names to the 911 operator
  • They remain on the scene until assistance arrives,

  • And they cooperate with the medical assistance and law enforcement personnel on scene.

In 2006, a case study published by the International Journal of Drug Policy, the Medical Amnesty Protocol at Cornell University found that following the initiation of the Hold Harmless Policy three distinct outcomes increased. There was an increase in alcohol related calls for assistance to emergency medical services; students were less likely to report fear of getting in trouble; and the percentage of students who visited health center staff for a brief psycho-educational intervention after an alcohol related emergency more than doubled by the end of the second year.

This legislation by no means condones underage drinking nor is it meant to supersede existing law. It merely responds to cases of excessive drinking by minors and creates the opportunity to save lives that are imperiled due to severe intoxication. Instead of enabling dangerous behavior by trying to hide it, it increases the likelihood that it will be confronted for what it is, a medical emergency.

As in all of our prevention efforts, there are no silver bullets that will solve the complex problem of underage drinking. Our efforts must include multiple strategies that include education as well as environmental approaches. These strategies must send a clear message to our youth that underage drinking is unacceptable but we must balance this with supportive services for youth in need. We need to be sure that once a problem is identified that our youth understand that safety comes first and that they need to be their friend’s lifeline to call for assistance.

NJPN strongly supports A- 3160 and hopes this committee will be part of saving the lives of our youth by voting yes to this important legislation.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Family Time

For many families, eating dinner together has become a lost art—but it proves to be a simple,effective way to reduce the risk of youth substance abuse and to raise healthier children. Before family dinners go the way of the dinosaur, let’s make the effort to preserve family mealtime – and not just for the holidays.

The facts are on the table: eating dinner together every night keeps the doors of communication open. It’s the perfect time and place to reconnect and to show your kids that they are your priority. Sitting across the table is where and when you can find out more about your children’s likes, dislikes, and daily life. Having this information can help you direct your children toward positive activities and behavior, reducing the likelihood that they will get involved with alcohol,tobacco, and/or illegal drugs.

Parental influence and involvement is an important tool in preventing substance abuse. Regularly sitting down for a meal with your children is one way to connect with them and be involved with what is happening in their lives. According to the Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, teens who have frequent family dinners are nearly half as likely to use marijuana and tobacco, drink alcohol and get drunk on a monthly basis when compared to teens who have infrequent family dinners. Similarly, girls who have five or more meals a week with their families are one-third less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits, which can range from skipping meals or abusing diet pills to full-fledged anorexia or bulimia.

What Should We Talk About?
  • Ask everyone to share their favorite part or biggest challenge of the day.
  • Plan and then let the kids pick tasks for the next day's menu, preparation, and cleanup.
  • Exchange memories about your favorite family pastimes.
  • Discuss an activity the family can do together and then put it on the calendar.
  • Talk with your children about a book they are reading or a movie they have seen. It might turn into a family book club or a regular movie and popcorn night!
  • Ask the kids about their classes, homework, teachers, and upcoming assignments. Findout if they would like your help or want to brainstorm on an assignment.
The importance of regular family activities to share ideas and find out "what's happening" is a
great way for a parent to be involved, discuss rules, monitor activities and friends, and be a good role model. The benefits of eating together will last long after your meal ends, especially if you make family mealtimes a regular activity. Take the family meal off the endangered species list and move it back to the VIP list!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Teenage Drug Abuse. The facts, the issues, the solutions.

If you read the newspapers, listen to the radio or watch TV, you know that in this country, we have a problem with teenage abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. How big a problem? It depends who you listen to. For example, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, which collects data on drug use among students in 8th, 10th and 12th grade students, several important trends are evident. Here are some highlights:

Some of the positive trends:
  • Marijuana use among eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders, which has declined a bit since the mid-1990s, appears to have leveled off with 10.9 percent of eighth graders, 23.9 percent of tenth graders, and 32.4 percent of twelfth graders reporting past year use.
  • Since 2001, the overall use of drugs by young people had dropped by 24 percent (alcohol by 15 percent, marijuana by 25 percent, ecstasy by 54 percent, and methamphetamine by 64 percent). Come 2008, the decline was 25 percent ... 900,000 fewer young people using illegal drugs than there were in 2001.
  • In 2008, 20.4% of 12th graders reported smoking cigarettes in the past month, a substantial decline from the most recent high of 36.5% in 1997.
  • Past-year use of illegal drugs aside from marijuana is down from 13.1% in 2007 to 11.3% in 2008. The same goes for the use of crystal meth, from 1.6% to 1.1%.
  • 8th, 10th, and 12th graders are continuing to show a gradual decline in their use of amphetamines, methamphetamine, cocaine, and crack.
Some of the negative trends:
  • In 2008, 15.4 percent of 12th graders said they abused prescription drugs within the past year. Among those, nearly 10 percent reported past year nonmedical use of Vicodin, and 4.7 percent reported abusing Oxycontin, both opioid painkillers. The survey notes that seven of the top 10 drugs abused by 12th graders in the year prior to the survey were either prescribed or purchased over-the-counter.
  • Marijuana remains to be the most commonly abused substance among teenagers in the United States. Of the teenagers surveyed by the MFT in 2008, 26.9% have reported using it.

For many parents finding out that their son or daughter is struggling with teen drug abuse is a catastrophic revelation. For many of them there are thoughts of failure, disappointment, guilt, and embarrassment. Parents need to remember that they are not the only ones to face such a situation. And perhaps more importantly, many families have overcome teen drug abuse.

Parents need to remember that today’s teenagers are not using as much cocaine, crack, LSD, and ecstasy as their counterparts did in the 1960’s. But today’s kids have found other ways and means to get high. They are more likely to turn to painkillers and other prescription drugs. And these are being abused at record levels.

What we’ve found is teens are often getting caught raiding their parent’s or grandparent’s medicine cabinets in order to get high. For the first time, national studies show that today’s teens are more likely to have abused a prescription painkiller than any illicit drug.

The reality is - it is impossible to predict whose teenager will experiment and stop and which one will develop serious problems. So here are some warning signs you should be looking for because they are of teenagers at risk for developing serious prescription drug dependency:
• A family history of substance or alcohol abuse
• Depression
• Low self-esteem
• Feel like they don’t fit in and are not popular with the mainstream
• Frequently feel sluggish and have difficulty sleeping
• Aggressive and rebellious attitude toward authority figures

The basic fact is that teen substance abuse affects the family especially as they become more hostile, and their decision-making ability becomes impaired. Teens who are abusing drugs set a bad example for their younger siblings and create much more hostility to the family as a whole. This behavior should not be tolerated by parents and appropriate help should be sought immediately.

Here are some things that you should share with your teen about prescription medications:
• Pharmaceuticals taken without a prescription or a doctor’s supervision can be just as dangerous as taking illicit drugs or alcohol.
• Abusing painkillers is just like abusing heroin because their ingredients are similar (both are opiates).
• Prescription medications are powerful substances. When prescription medication is not used for sickness and not administered by a professional, it becomes a controlled substance and the impact on the person can be deadly.
• It is extremely dangerous to take pills that are unknown.
• Mixing drugs with other substances is very dangerous. Some people have allergic reactions to different chemicals when they are mixed together.

What can you do to help prevent teens or any other person from getting involved with prescription drug abuse? The best thing to do is keep your prescription drugs in a safe place: don’t put them in the medicine cabinet in your bathroom because that is the first place teenager’s will look. If possible, lock them up in a cabinet or safe box. Know what your teen is doing and who they are doing it with. And perhaps most importantly, talk to your teen and warn them of the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

There are many options for available to parents who have a child involved with teen substance abuse. Some of these options include: enrollment in a specialty boarding school or residential treatment center or a short-term drug detox hospital.

But first, call NCADD of Middlesex County, Inc’s Referral Hotline at 732-254-3344. We have the information and resources to put you in touch with the best course of action for your teen. Remember that there is a great deal of help available if parents are able to get the troubled teen the appropriate intervention.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Basics of Addiction

So how does addiction affect us? The fact is that abuse and addiction to alcohol, nicotine, and illegal substances cost all of us upwards of half a trillion dollars a year. That happens when you take into account the combined medical, economic, criminal, and social impact addiction has. Each and every year, abuse of illicit drugs and alcohol contributes to the death of more than 100,000 Americans, while tobacco is linked to an estimated 440,000 deaths per year. Our children are starting to drink at an earlier age and lately, they are turning to prescription and over-the-counter medications to get high.

Essentially, addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain - they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.

So why do people take drugs and abuse alcohol? There are a variety of reasons.
Many do so because they want to feel good. The drugs they take produce intense feelings of pleasure. This initial sensation of euphoria is followed by other effects, which differ with the type of drug used. Cocaine gives the abuser the "high" he or she desires and is then followed by feelings of power, self-confidence, and increased energy. Heroin also provides its user feelings of relaxation and satisfaction.
Some people use drugs to feel better, because they suffer from social anxiety, stress-related disorders, and depression. They begin abusing drugs in an attempt to lessen feelings of distress. Stress can play a major role in beginning drug use, continuing drug abuse, or relapse in patients recovering from addiction.
People also use drugs because they want to alleviate the pressure they feel to do better or improve their athletic or cognitive performance. Similarly, some people do so because of curiosity and because “other” are doing so. Peer pressure, especially among adolescents play a major role in people’s initial experimentation and continued drug abuse.
The problem is that at first, people may perceive what seem to be positive effects with drug use. They also may believe that they can control their use; however, drugs can quickly take over their lives. Consider how a social drinker can become intoxicated, put himself behind a wheel and quickly turn a pleasurable activity into a tragedy for him and others. Over time, if drug use continues, pleasurable activities become less pleasurable, and drug abuse becomes necessary for abusers to simply feel "normal." Drug abusers reach a point where they seek and take drugs, despite the tremendous problems caused for themselves and their loved ones. Some individuals may start to feel the need to take higher or more frequent doses, even in the early stages of their drug use.

It is important to understand that as with any other disease, vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person. In general, the more risk factors an individual has, the greater the chance that taking drugs will lead to abuse and addiction. And there is no one single factor that determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs. The overall risk for addiction is impacted by the biological makeup of the individual - it can even be influenced by gender or ethnicity, his or her developmental stage, and the surrounding social environment (e.g., conditions at home, at school, and in the neighborhood).

The good news is that addiction is a treatable disease. Discoveries in the science of addiction have led to advances in drug abuse treatment that help people stop abusing drugs and resume productive lives.

The key to successful treatment is long-term engagement and this does not only means inpatient treatment. Today, a heart attack patient may stay in the hospital for a few days to get stabilized. He then begins a long-standing relationship with a cardiologist that may include medication and regular follow-up visits as the patient works to restructure his life in a healthier fashion. This is true with the addict in recovery.

We know that addiction need not be a life sentence. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be managed successfully. Treatment enables people to counteract addiction's powerful disruptive effects on brain and behavior and regain control of their lives.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Acts of Prevention

NCADD is launching a new effort called Acts of Prevention. Acts of Prevention is a unique and exciting program developed in response to the changing needs of our youth. It is based upon a collaborative relationship between the arts and prevention. are are energized to be able to offer programming to schools, communities and agencies that will be educational, fun and empowering for individuals of all ages.

We want to know what you think of the idea of combining the arts with prevention. Let us know.

By the way, if you are interested in or want more information on the Acts of Prevention programs you can contact us at 732-254-3344 or visit our website at

Friday, January 30, 2009

Letter to the editor - Legalized Marijuana

New Jersey is on the verge of being the next state to grant medical authority to its legislators by enacting legislation to allow our citizens to smoke pot and call it medicine. Besides the obvious contradiction that even the most addicted smoker knows that smoking is medically harmful, both the American Medical Association and Food and Drug Administration (among many others) deny that smoked marijuana is medicine. Its purity cannot be controlled, nor can its dosage be regulated. However, when pro- and anti-marijuana dogmas clash, an important fact is lost: natural marijuana is not a medicine in and of itself, nor is it an evil drug; it is a plant. Marijuana is a complex plant that naturally contains dozens of identified psychoactive chemicals, some of which cause feelings of euphoria, others lead to addiction, and still others may have the potential to be medically beneficial.

The case of marijuana is actually quite similar to that of the willow tree. The willow tree bark itself, followed by an extract made from the bark, was used for its medicinal properties from ancient times until the eighteenth century. No one would ever say that the willow tree is medicine; however, one of the compounds in willow bark is salicylic acid, which is structurally similar to aspirin. Even so, it was not until chemists used this knowledge to create aspirin in 1899 that we had a true medicine, meaning we had an identified chemical (acetylsalicylic acid) that was able to be created with standard potency and studied in clinical trials. A doctor was now able to say, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning” and know exactly what he was prescribing. This was much more clinically sound than your great aunt saying; “Chew on some of this willow bark. It will make you feel better.”

It is my hope that state governments that are concerned about the health of their most seriously ill citizens will demand that the federal government not simply tolerate limited research into the potential medical properties in marijuana but demand that additional research be funded immediately. I would hate to think that the best we can do is tell people, “Here, smoke some of this. We know it is dangerous and most people will go to jail for using it, but this is the best we can do for you.” If we really wanted to help people who are in desperate need, we would demand the development of lozenges, inhalers, patches, or even those fast dissolving oral strips, that can be dosage controlled – we would demand true medicine. Who knows how many potential medicines could be derived from the marijuana plant? While legislators fight it out on ideological lines, and pro-marijuana groups lobby for the right to smoke pot, the opportunity to truly help people is going up in smoke.