Donna Andelora, of Wayne, N.J., describes losing her son to a drug overdose after he was in and out of treatment centers. Andelora founded the Lost Angels Bereavement Group which meets in Pompton Lakes at the Carnevale Center every other Thursday. Jai Agnish/Northjersey.com
POMPTON LAKES — A panel of experts described the damage wrought by drug abuse, but also gave advice to volunteers and parents.
A mom from Wayne described how heroin took control of her son until finally an overdose led to his death.
A high school counselor warned middle schoolers are experimenting with marijuana even before alcohol. He also said prescription drug abuse is starting at a younger age, and mixing drugs is not uncommon.
“They’re smoking weed and they’re drinking,” said Skip McLaughlin, a counselor at Pompton Lakes High School and New Life Recovery. “They’re doing Xanax and they’re drinking. … That could kill you. Don’t put your blinders on. Don’t kid yourself.”
An advocate for neglected and abused children said that children of substance abusers are three times more likely to be physically or sexually abused. They are also more likely to enter the child welfare system, she said, become homeless and struggle in school.
Sarah Cane-During, a Passaic County CASA case supervisor, discusses how substance abuse by parents impacts children. Cane-During spoke at a drug educational forum held in Pompton Lakes on Nov. 30, 2017. Jai Agnish/Northjersey.com
An assistant prosecutor with the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office warned that the heroin epidemic has spread even into multimillion-dollar neighborhoods. Two 18-year-olds from different Wayne schools overdosed on the same day, she said.
“It’s here,” said Vivian Khalil, senior assistant prosecutor with the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office. “It’s not the wrong side of the tracks issue anymore.”
Doug Kaminski Jr., a recovering drug addict, speaks at a drug educational forum in Pompton Lakes on Nov. 30, 2017. Kami describes how he experimented with drugs at a young age, got hooked, and turned to a 12-step program for help. Jai Agnish/Northjersey.com
A recovering addict described his struggles and said it wasn’t until his friend died from drugs that he hit bottom, got clean, and entered a 12-step program.
These were some of the stories shared at a forum held in Pompton Lakes last week by the Pompton Lakes Prevention Coalition. The coalition is funded by a federal grant and was created to prevent drinking and marijuana use among young people.
The loss of a son
Donna Andelora of Wayne lost her 22-year-old son, Joey, to a heroin overdose. She described Joey’s years-long up-and-down battle with addiction and his degeneration from an A-plus student to someone who robbed drug dealers and stole from his family to get high.
“You want to get back there and you don’t care about anything,” Andelora said, describing her son’s heroin addiction. “He had no fear of getting arrested. He had no fear of getting shot in Paterson. He had no fear of overdosing in his car.”
Andelora said she used to ask her son, “aren’t you afraid of anything?”
He told her, “Mom, when you want that high there’s nothing more important. It doesn’t matter how much I love you or Dad. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to die in the next two hours.”
That’s the grip that this drug has on someone, she said.
“Nothing is stronger than the pull that this drug has,” Andelora said. “Once you become addicted to an opiate, it steals your soul. It robs you of who you are and that controls every fiber of your being. And it’s a downward spiral and there’s not going to be a good ending to it. You’re going to die. You’re going to go to jail or you’re going to live the life of an addict for as ever long as you can keep yourself alive.”
Andelora founded the Lost Angels bereavement support group in 2013 after her son died. The group meets at St. Mary’s Carnevale Center in Pompton Lakes every other Thursday at 7:30 p.m. It offers support to people dealing with the death of a family member as a result of substance abuse or addiction. Email DonnaAndelora@yahoo.com for information.
Vivian Khalil, senior assistant prosecutor with the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office, discusses the proliferation of heroin and its deadly impact on teens in suburban communities such as Wayne, N.J. She encouraged parents to monitor social media. Jai Agnish/Northjersey.com
Drugs targeting children
Khalil warned that drug dealers are targeting children and described a case her office prosecuted in Passaic. They recovered 20,000 packages of synthetic marijuana with graphics geared toward kids. Some packets featured Minions and Angry Birds movie characters. “Nobody cares who the victim is,” she said.
Khalil encouraged parents to do more than just talk to their children about drug abuse.
“You have to get into their computers,” she said. “You have to monitor their social media. The amount of damage that this is doing to them with the pressures and the bullying and all the enticement that goes on with it — it’s going to kill our children.”
Skip McLaughlin, a student assistance counselor at Pompton Lakes High School and counselor at New Life Recovery Center, discusses drug abuse at a forum in Pompton Lakes on Nov. 30, 2017. Jai Agnish/Northjersey.com
Doug Kaminski Jr., a recovering addict, said a support network and spirituality was key for helping him get clean.
“I have spiritual medicine I have to take every day,” he said at the forum. “I have to pray, meditate. I have to talk to other addicts and alcoholics and I have to take other people through the steps.”
Kaminski said helping others takes his focus off himself.
“The disease is really selfish, self-centered,” he said. He said his parents telling him to quit wasn’t enough. “I needed to go through a lot of pain to get to where I’m at today. I’m blessed. I’m working my way up. I’m trying to think about career now and stuff like that.”
Kaminski said he is against the legalization of marijuana and said it should only be used for medical reasons.
A child advocate
Sarah Cane-During of Passaic County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate Association) spoke of cases where a parent had died while a child was present .
“Obviously that’s extremely traumatic,” she said. “They don’t have a primary caregiver anymore. Sometimes it happens after a year of sobriety. The kid goes home. The parent is sober for a while or they are clean for a while, and then they have a relapse incident.”
She said more volunteers are needed by the organization, as well as sober housing. Visit the county’s website for more information.
Pompton Lakes Prevention Coalition
The Pompton Lakes Prevention Coalition meets the fourth Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. at the CJM Building at 223 Wanaque Ave., in Pompton Lakes. Visit their Facebook page for more information.
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