By: Shubham Saharan and Miriam Lubin
Last year alone, opioid overdoses claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 New Jersey residents—a number exceeding the population size of many small New Jersey towns (NJ.com). To help combat this crisis, the Plainsboro Police Department has established a three day opioid education program, to be held in twelfth grade health classes at North. The three day intensive follows the same general structure originally created by the Manchester Police Department in Ocean County, but with additional personalizations to make it more applicable to Plainsboro. Other departments, including the West Windsor Police Department are also adapting and using this program at High School South.
Out of a thirty six officer force, ten officers were chosen to head the program. “The ten that were chosen had a strength in public speaking, in their community interactions, and in teaching—a majority of the officers already involved in teaching the D.A.R.E program. We wanted officers that were able to break down barriers and really convey the message well,” said Detective Kenneth Beaty, one of the leaders of the Not Even Once program. “Working with the Plainsboro police was a wonderful experience and even better than I anticipated. They were very organized and were enthusiastic to get this program started at HS North,” said senior P.E. teacher, Mrs. Serughetti.
Government run education programs are often dismissed as categorically ineffective. However, this program seems to defy that standard by combining traditional education tactics with opportunities for more student interaction. One of these opportunities was collaborating with the Recovery Advocates of America, a non-profit organization which provides services in opioid addiction education and treatment, to bring in recovering drug addicts to share their stories with the students. “It is so much more impactful to hear about addiction first hand from someone who has actually gone through it, rather than from a figure of authority,” said Detective Jason Hanley.
To many students, it seems improbable that addiction could be non discriminatory, that all people are equally likely to fall victim to it regardless of their backgrounds. “It was really eye opening to see that [opioid addiction] doesn’t just happen in the news or in movies, but that it happens right here right now. It was also very inspiring to see and hear the stories of people who overcame their addictions and are on their way to make a difference,” said senior, Riya Patel. The impact of the program was seen not only by students, but also teachers. “I think almost all of our students benefited from this program in one way or another. It shows those students that they are not alone and that there are resources for everyone involved,” said Mrs. Serughetti.
The program does not solely operate with the intent of educating on opioid addiction, but also to better establish relationships between the community and its police force. “The program has absolutely changed the way we interact with students. It’s designed so that the officers are in the classroom with the students in an informal setting, to develop more positive relationships.” said Detective Beatty. In fact, many of the officers could personally relate to the information discussed because they had family members struggling through addiction, and could bring perspective to the lessons, connecting with students on a personal level.
With the progress made through the program this year, the Plainsboro Police Department is optimistic about continuing it, perhaps returning in the spring for a longer duration to go more depth, and implementing a similar course in the middle schools. It is a step in the right direction that promotes both drug awareness education and good community policing.