Ocean County towns get federal funds to fight drug abuse
A federal grant is funding anti-drug programs in municipalities hit especially hard by the heroin epidemic.
Toms River and Brick will receive $125,000 annually for five years through the Office of National Drug Control Policy's Drug Free Support Program with the intent of promoting prevention services to prevent substance abuse. Eight grants were awarded in New Jersey.
The programs for Brick and Toms River will be administered by the DART Coalition, which is funded by the Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention and already provides similar services throughout the Ocean County area. The grant money will allow them to further expand their programs.
Rather than focusing on one-on-one drug rehabilitation or counseling services, the grant money is aimed at broader prevention methods.
"We're seeking to make changes on a widespread community level rather than dealing with individuals," said Bob Goldschlag, director of the DART coalition.
Goldschlag said that includes working heavily with local police departments as well directly in schools.
"We train students, in essence, to form a student led coalition in the school to provide prevention services in the school, seeking to reduce substance abuse," he said.
Toms River and Brick accounted for nearly one-third of Ocean County's 112 drug overdose deaths in 2013, with 25 deaths in Toms River and 14 in Brick, according to figures from the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. However, Goldschlag said the two Ocean County municipalities were also chosen because of the way Superstorm Sandy affected substance abuse figures.
"We were actually interviewing many individuals who were admitted for substance abuse treatment concerning whether they were affected in any fashion by Sandy. The data pointed to a subsequent increase [in substance abuse] after the storm," Goldschlag said.
The towns are eligible for another renewal in five years if the programs hit their intended goals. Goldschlag said formal goals have not been determined.
"But it could be to dispose X number of pounds of prescription drugs, maybe bringing programs into all of the Toms River and Brick schools," he said.