County league addresses opioid crisis

Officials pledge to combat epidemic together

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  • Municipal, county and state officials gathered earlier this month at Mohawk House for a meeting of the Sussex County League of Municipalities Photo by Rose Sgarlato

  • SCLOM officials and friends, from left: Tom Ferry, SCLOM Treasurer; Jeff Parrot, County Clerk; Debra Milliken, SCLOM Secretary; Christine Quinn, SCLOM President; Jackie Espinoza, SCLOM Vice President; Gary Chiusano, County Surrogate; Dan Flynn, NJLOM Representative; state Sen. Steve Oroho and state Assemblyman Hal Wirths. Photo provided

By Rose Sgarlato

— The recently resuscitated Sussex County League of Municipalities met earlier this month to tackle the opioid epidemic that is plaguing the county, the state and the nation.

“The Opioid epidemic affects each of our municipalities equally," stated the meeting agenda. "As stakeholders and leaders of the county, those that serve trust and rely on us to explore and provide solutions around how we plan to combat this crisis and protect them from it.”

“It is a national epidemic, and we want to localize the message that there are available programs in the county,” said Christine Quinn, a Sparta councilwoman who is SCLOM president.

The league titled the meeting, held March 15 at Mohawk House in Sparta, "Municipal Intervention."

Representatives from 19 out of the county's 24 municipalities were in attendance, as were state and local government officials. Becky Carlson, executive director of the Center for Prevention and Counseling, partnered with SCLOM to present the program. The safety of county residents is, Quinn said, the priority.

The panel of professionals gave different perspectives on the crisis and how to address it.

Dr. Anthony Brutico, medical director for the Emergency Department at Newton Medical Center talked about what he sees first-hand at the hospital. He said addiction is prevalent and the crisis is assuredly local. Brutico said the medical center has significantly decreased precriptions containing opioids for patients upon release, notijng that many addicts get started through prescription narcotics.

Aaron Kucharski gave a personal story about his long-term recovery process resulting from Opioid addiction. The message to drive home, Kucahrski said, is that there is help available. Legislatively, there are also actions being taken, said state Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Sussex), citing efforts to limit the number of pills available by prescription, increae the availability of Narcan for use by first responders, mandate insurance carriers to cover up to 180 days of substance abuse treatment, and require New Jersey to share data on medications with other states. Raising awareness for individuals and their families is an important first step, officials said.

“Sparta is a stigma-free town," Quinn said. "We were the first in the county to go stigma-free around the subject of mental health and substance abuse."

The Stigma-Free Initiative is a program which aims to reduce the stigmas associated with mental illness and drug abuse. A community becomes stigma-free through a commitment to raise public awareness of these diseases as diseases and support families and individuals to feel free to seek treatment without fear of stigma.

"The Thursday night meeting of the Sussex County League of Municipalities was very informative," said Sparta police Chief Neil Spidaletto. "Law enforcement is just one facet in this fight in attempting to provide help to those that seek it. Sparta police, as well as other Sussex County police departments, has committed to helping those with addictions through the CLEAR program.”

Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery, or CLEAR, is a program that seeks to form a collaborative network of professionals in the community who will facilitate medical intervention, improved access to treatment and recovery support for those struggling with drug addiction who seek assistance, without fear of arrest or prosecution, in order to make a positive difference in the quality of life for individuals, families and the entire community.

About 100 people attended the 'intervention.' Quinn was pleased with the turnout and the fact that the league is back in operation.

“There was an overwhelming response to put the league back together," she said. "We changed the format and agreed we would not have ‘a meeting to have a meeting.’ We would only conduct meetings that matter to our towns.”

SCLOM was revived in May 2017, after going dormant for several years. in addition to Quinn as president, SCLOM officer include Jackie Espinosa, JCP&L area manger for Sussex County, as vice president; CPA Tom Ferry as treasurer; Newton Councilman Dan Flynn as liaison to the New Jersey League of Municipalities; and Wantage Township Administrator Deborah Milliken as secretary.

Quinn noted that Mohawk House will serve as the setting for several SCLOM meetings to come.

“Mohawk House and Steve Scro are huge supporters," she said. "Getting various leaders together from all over can be challenging logistically. To have the support of Mohawk House being our consistent meeting place is important.”

Scro, the owner of the restaurant, was proud to host this and future meetings.

“The league meetings present a great opportunity for local leaders to get together and collaborate on community needs," Scro said. "From the beginning, our philosophy at Mohawk House is to be part of making a difference as a cornerstone of the county.” .

“There are a lot of invested people who want to serve our neighbors,” said Quinn. “We are 24 municipalities faced with the same issues. We come together at these meetings and share our concerns and success stories. Our hearts and souls have been put into resurrecting the league. We are excited about the momentum that the league is gaining and excited about what the future will bring."

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