Opioid abuse continues to spiral out of control in New Jersey but a new report finds there is growing awareness about the problem among parents.

A Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey study finds 69 percent of parents of children 18 or younger believe there is a link between prescription painkillers and the heroin epidemic.

Angelo Valente, the executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, believes this is significant.

“Parents and caregivers and grandparents, anyone who has an influence over children, really needs to understand that they have to look at alternatives to opiates,” he said.

“Because we know about 8 out of 10 heroin users started with a prescribed medication, so in order to really start to stem the tide we have to be looking at alternatives to opiates for prescribing purposes, especially for acute pain.”

He said when parents have an understanding about the link between prescription opioids and heroin use they can talk to doctors and dentists about what kind of painkiller their child will get.

He stressed avoiding addiction is especially important for someone with an adolescent brain.

“We know young people are still developing well into their early 20s, so being able to safeguard that child and in particular that child’s brain, is really crucial," he said.

Valente noted a similar study was conducted two years ago “and we’ve seen about a 5 percent increase in awareness, which is leading people in the right direction. More and more parents are becoming knowledgeable and aware.”

The survey, conducted in conjunction with the Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind research center, found 74 percent of respondents 18 to 34 years old believed there was a link between prescription opioids and heroin, while 63 percent of respondents 55 and older thought there was a link.

The survey also found 69 percent of people with a college degree thought there was a link, compared to 66 percent who did not attend college

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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