From the Editor: Opioid epidemic starts conversation at schools

One Middlesex County superintendent has mandated that parents of middle schoolers sit in on an opioid abuse seminar as a prerequisite to attending their child’s graduation. While some parents are outraged, claiming he is overstepping a boundary and creating unnecessary, intrusive rules, I commend him for opening up the conversation about drug use, including how to identify a dangerous situation and prevent overdoses.

In order to receive tickets for the eighth grade graduations at Jonas Salk and Carl Sandburg middle schools in Old Bridge, one family member of each student must attend a one-hour seminar in April. The classes, called Hidden in Plain Sight, will be led by a former official with the Drug Enforcement Agency. There are three meeting dates for families to choose from.

Superintendent David Cittadino has made this seminar mandatory because he said he feared parents skipping it, thus missing out on tremendously important information, if it were presented as an optional opportunity.

I graduated from Salk in 2010, while Cittadino was the principal. A year later, he moved up to Old Bridge High School (OBHS) to serve in the same position there. In August 2012, just before my junior year began, he was named superintendent of the Old Bridge Public School District. I can say from personal experience that he is a good man who genuinely cares about his students, and I believe this compassion was the motivation to establish this mandatory seminar.

“I find myself attending funeral services for students that I was their principal in middle school and high school, and each one takes more and more of a toll on me,” he said.

Cittadino is a father who recognizes the issue our state and country face regarding drug availability, distribution, addiction and the fatality rate that has risen in response to all this. By informing parents of the risks of drug use and signs of addiction, he is getting to the root of the problem and ensuring these students and their families are knowledgeable about this serious, and often deadly, topic before they are exposed to threats in the form of peer pressure, heroin needles, accessible Oxycodone bottles, etc.

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, someone died every 5.5 hours from drug-related complications in 2015. Every 9.1 hours, someone succumbed to a heroin-related death; between 2010 and 2015, this number increased by 196 percent.

It’s time to find a solution.

Former Gov. Chris Christie made conquering the addiction crisis one of his top priorities throughout his tenure, particularly focusing on reducing the stigma around the disease of addiction and providing resources to those struggling with drug-related issues. In 2017, Christie committed $200 million in additional funds to enhance opioid and substance use disorder emergency programs. With recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force on Drug Abuse Control, he has implemented 25 initiatives aimed at aiding in the prevention of drug abuse, treatment for those struggling with addiction and recovery for those who have worked to create better lives for themselves without the influence of narcotics.

Drugs will always be an issue, and it would be unrealistic to expect to rid our state of opioids and addiction cases. It is more feasible, however, to offer education about this crisis and hope to save at least one person.

My heart shatters every time I log onto Facebook and see another tribute post dedicated to someone from my hometown who died because of drug use or whose family has set up a GoFundMe to pay medical bills amassed after an overdose left one of my classmates in a coma. I graduated from OBHS with nearly 800 students, and since then, I have lost track of the number of them I will never see again.

Parents criticizing Cittadino for requiring a family member of a middle school student to attend this seminar are missing the point of it altogether. He did not implement this rule to anger people, step on anyone’s toes or try to sabotage families’ celebration plans after seeing their son or daughter walk across stage to receive his or her diploma. He did this so that these students get the chance to reach more milestones. They will graduate college or find a career, get married or buy a house, have children or travel the world, and they’ll hopefully be happy and healthy while doing so.

I don’t see any rational reason to oppose this mandatory seminar, and I applaud the superintendent for risking his reputation for the safety of his students. Taking one class about opioid abuse is an opportunity for parents to ensure this issue does not rip their family apart. One hour out of one day can prevent a life from getting cut short, and I think that is worth making some space on the calendar.

The weekly editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News. This week’s editorial was written by the managing editor, Shanna O’Mara.

Printed in the 3/28/18 issue. 

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