Learning dangers part of prevention

Courier News, Home News Tribune, myCentralJersey.com

By Terry Hoben

In 2007, more than 41,000 alcohol-impaired driving deaths occurred in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In that same year, New Jersey alone experienced 204 of those fatalities.

There were 7,650 total fatalities in crashes involving young drivers (15 to 20 years of age), and 114 of those deaths were here in New Jersey.

These statistics emphasize the need to educate our nation’s youth, including those right here in Somerset County, about the perils of drinking and driving, as well as being distracted while driving.

As one of New Jersey’s emergency responders, Northern Shock Trauma Air Rescue (NorthSTAR) sees the impact of alcohol-related crashes firsthand. While the national numbers are staggering, this firsthand knowledge has compelled our team to develop local strategies aimed at combating this problem in our own county of Somerset.

NorthSTAR, which is operated by the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) unit of University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)-University Hospital, serves as the air medevac service for northern New Jersey.

It is located in Somerset County, the crossroads for vehicles traveling throughout New Jersey, and home to major interstates 287 and 78, as well as U.S. highways 22, 202 and 206.

NorthSTAR transports those injured in motor vehicle crashes to the closest trauma center where care is waiting for the severely injured. On far too many occasions, the NorthSTAR team has witnessed how alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes forever change the lives of parents, siblings, loved ones and friends. Lives are cut short, diplomas never received and dreams not realized, all due to these preventable crashes.

In an effort to save lives and prevent these crashes, NorthSTAR works with the Somerset County high schools’ administration, counselors and teachers to provide educational experiences that remind students about the dangers of impaired driving. We are also working with programs such as EmPoWER Somerset, an initiative that is aiming to reduce the number of alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes that claim the lives of Somerset County’s youth.

As does EmPoWER Somerset, NorthSTAR encourages prevention through education. One NorthSTAR effort is the internationally renowned "Every 15 Minutes" program, which presents real-life situations, dynamic speakers and hands-on exercises that allow students to experience the risks of impaired driving without exposing them to the dangers.

This two-day program will be held at Bound Brook High School in Somerset County on May 5 and 6.

Each day, the NorthSTAR team will teach nearly 500 students how drinking and driving, talking on a cell phone while driving, and eating while driving make them more prone to having an accident. These real-life exercises include remote controlled go-carts and vision goggles that create realistic yet safe experiences that demonstrate the dangers of engaging in these behaviors.

To attend this program and observe "Every 15 Minutes," please contact Terry Hoben, NorthSTAR Air Medical Coordinator, at 908-203-8908 or at ude.jndmu@rtneboh.

Terry Hoben is the UMDNJ University Hospital NorthSTAR Air Medical Coordinator. NorthSTAR is a cooperative program of University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) University Hospital, the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Department of Health.

Treat underage drinking like drug abuse by William G. Parenti – North Plainfield Police Chief and President of the Somerset County Association of Chiefs of Police

Courier News Article with QR Scan

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says alcohol is the drug of choice among young adults. By the time teens graduate high school, half say they drink alcohol regularly with the greatest usage occurring between grades 6 and 12. Even though alcohol is classified as a drug, many parents, because they might imbibe themselves, do not think of alcohol as being a drug. However, because alcohol can become addictive or incite mood changes, it is just as dangerous as any other illicit drug.

Individuals under the legal age to buy alcoholic beverages have to realize the consequences of purchases and drinking. Liquor stores, restaurants, and bars have to be committed to responsible service. Parents, friends, neighbors, or relatives should also play an active role. If they purchase any alcoholic beverage for an underage person, they commit an unlawful act and could be liable for the actions of the underage person. When 10-18 year olds were asked the question, "How do you and your friends get the alcohol you drink?", a majority (65%) of those who have consumed alcohol in the past year cited family and friends as the leading source for getting alcohol. If you learn of underage drinking or someone leaving a place that is intoxicated, call 911; an underage drinker or a drunk driver is an emergency requiring swift action.

Working to restrict access to alcohol by those under the legal drinking age should be a priority in every household. People have to realize that no matter how an underage drinking party ends up, children lose by facing the danger of serious car crashes, alcohol poisoning, and a lifetime of lost employment opportunities. New Jersey has a zero tolerance for underage alcohol possession or consumption.

Enforcement for this program will include roving patrols in strategic locations chosen throughout the County. A ‘Cop in Shops’ program joins forces with retailers and law enforcement officers to help stop illegal underage alcohol sales and to prevent adults from buying alcohol for minors. This involves teams of police officers placed in strategic alcohol retail outlets. The program consists of an undercover police officer working inside the liquor establishment while a second officer, positioned outside, will apprehend adults purchasing alcohol for youth.

In addition to the state statutes, some communities, like North Plainfield where I serve, have ordinances that prohibit underage possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages on private property.

Holidays are a time to enjoy the company of families and friends. Unfortunately, it also when tragedy strikes and many young drivers lose their lives or are severely injured in alcohol related traffic crashes. The goal of this extraordinary partnership is to enable loved ones to enjoy being at the table with families or friends during the upcoming holiday season. Enjoy the holidays by staying sober and make sure your underage children do the same!

Thankgiving Eve biggest underage drinking night of year, local police say by Sergio Bichao, Courier News Staff Writer

Scanned Courier News Article

The effort to curb drunk driving is getting “smart” this year.                                                                                For the second year, a Somerset County nonprofit committed to substance abuse awareness will be paying nine local police departments to staff an extra 22 officers during what many consider the biggest night of drinking of the year — Thanksgiving Eve.
But new in this year’s campaign by EmPoWER Somerset to reduce underage drinking and drunken driving is a list of local taxi services that revelers can pull up on their smart phones.
The campaign begins Wednesday night, which is widely considered one of the most deadly holidays for road travel.
North Plainfield Police Chief William G. Parenti, president of the Somerset County Association of Chiefs of Police, said he and his colleagues consider Thanksgiving Eve the biggest night for underage drinking.
“Kids are coming home from college and going out, or teens are getting alcohol from their older siblings who are home from college,” Parenti said.
Of course, it’s not just the underage who will be imbibing.
Adam Franco, of 685-TAXI in Manville, said Thanksgiving might be the busiest holiday for his company, which is one of the six services on the EmPoWER Somerset’s “Ride Home 2nite” list.
“I’m taking calls from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday,” he said. “It does make sense to call ahead and reserve so you can get picked up. Nobody wants to be standing outside a bar past closing time.”
Last year, local police departments working with the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and the Somerset Sheriff’s Department engaged drunk driving and underage drinking in a coordinated crackdown.
EmPoWER Somerset helped pay for the overtime for officers involved in the holiday sting operations.
This year the organization will fund 22 officers throughout the county, Parenti said. The cost will vary across town lines, but Parenti said a “fair estimate” would be about $67 an hour for a four-hour shift.
In addition to pulling over drivers at checkpoints, cops will go undercover at cooperating liquor stores to catch underage people trying to buy liquor or adults who agree to buy booze for minors.
Writing in Friday’s Courier News, Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey D. Soriano said using fake driver’s licenses or trying to buy liquor while underage could lead to fines of up to $1,000 and six months in jail. Driving while under the influence could lead to assault by auto charges that result in five years in prison, he said.
The list of car services will be posted at more than 15 bars in the county. The list can be accessed from a smart phone equipped to scan the square-shaped QR codes affixed to the leaflets.
EmPoWER Somerset executive director Sharon Lutz said the campaign will continue through Christmas, New Year’s Day and the NFL Super Bowl in January.

Binge Drinking: There are zero positive effects by Somerset County Sheriff Frank J. Provenzano

Courier News Article with QR Scan

Throughout my law enforcement career I have witnessed the devastating effects of binge drinking on far too many occasions. Many young men and women alter their lives forever due to the consequences of binge drinking. Some even die.

As a leader in the law enforcement community, I am committed to increasing awareness among parents and children concerning the devastating effects of binge drinking. As we approach the holidays, binge drinking awareness is increasingly important.

Most people who choose to binge drink are not aware of the risks associated with it. Binge drinking affects one’s health in many serious ways. The most deleterious effect is on the brain which results violent behavior, addictions, depression and suicide.

Overtime binge drinkers are likely to see a decrease in their overall quality of life. Many binge drinkers lose friends and family. Some neglect their obligations and end up full of regrets. There are zero accounts of the after effects of binge drinking being positive. Most effects permanent. This concept may be hard to grasp for individuals who are young and feel invincible, but the negative effects are undeniable. 

Recent research has shown that young college students, who consume 5 drinks or more on 3 or more occasions within a 2 week time frame, are 19 times more likely to develop an alcohol problem than those who abstain.

The main cause of death for adolescent has been related to automobile accidents. One third of those accidents are fatal and the average age range is 15-20 years age. To add insult to injury, binge drinking has increased thoughts of suicide in adolescents by 4 times the national rate.

I understand the temptations young men and women will encounter this holiday season. However, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to inform and warn them as to the severe and often deadly consequences of such actions. I wish all residents of Somerset County a safe and happy holiday season!

Remember this “Don’t let one night of drinking turn into a life long nightmare.”

This Holiday Season, Don’t Be a Turkey by Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano

 Courier News article with QR Code

Here is a scenario for all to consider as the holiday season approaches:

Tom Terkee is 20 and has been able to alter the driver’s license of his 24-year-old brother, replacing his brother’s photo with his own. Home for holiday break, Tom walks into a bar one evening, shows the license to the bartender and orders and drinks a couple of beers with fellow high school alumni. Before last call, Tom and his buddies decide to go to a party hosted by an old girlfriend. Before leaving, Tom buys a case of beer. At the party, Tom shares his beer with his buddies — all of whom are under 21. Upon leaving the party, Tom takes the last six-pack and puts it on the floor in his car. Driving home, Tom loses control and has a head-on collision with another car resulting in serious injuries to a passenger in the other car and to Tom. Tests reveal Tom’s blood alcohol concentration of .12 percent.

Tom has a variety of legal problems — criminal and civil. I will focus on the criminal. Altering and presenting the driver’s license gets Tom a charge of tampering with public records or information, a disorderly persons offense. Tom’s acts of (1) entering the bar for the purpose of buying beer, (2) misrepresenting his age and (3) consuming alcohol in the bar are all, under New Jersey’s intoxicating liquor laws, illegal and constitute disorderly persons offenses. By sharing his beer with his buddies, Tom commits another offense. By knowingly possessing the beer in his car, Tom commits yet another disorderly persons offense. The collision would likely result in a number of motor vehicle violations, including driving while intoxicated (DWI). Beyond that, for injuries to the passenger, Tom would face assault by auto or, possibly, aggravated assault, 3rd- and 2nd-degree crimes, respectively.
Tom faces substantial fines and penalties. The disorderly persons offenses alone carry fines up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Like the DWI, many of the underage alcohol-related violations require suspension of Tom’s driver’s license. Tom could face three to five years in state prison for assault by auto, and, for aggravated assault, five to 10 years. In short, this holiday party is costly in terms of fines, legal fees and increased insurance costs, not to mention likely jail and suspension of driving privileges.

From a practical perspective, the analysis is no better. Any one of Tom’s crimes carries serious consequences. The impact on many of the things Tom likely takes for granted — finishing college, launching a career, running for elective office, starting a family or coaching children — is devastating.
The perils of underage drinking — the social, physical, school and legal problems — have led legislators to create laws like those I mentioned. Police and prosecutor are charged with the responsibility of enforcing those laws, and, I assure you, in Somerset County that mission is taken very seriously. The "Cops in Shops" initiative, DWI checkpoints and enhanced enforcement efforts will be in place this holiday season and, unfortunately, it is likely that underage drinking will be at the root of many of the arrests.

While we may never put a stop to underage drinking, the battle to do so is being waged forcefully. Organizations like EmPoWER Somerset are invaluable resources for our youth, as well as their parents and guardians. Take advantage of these resources.

This holiday season, be mindful that even a single instance of poor judgment can eliminate a lifetime of opportunities.

Smart Phones Lead to Smart Choices to Prevent Drinking and Driving by EmPoWER Somerset Executive Director Sharon Lutz

 Courier News article with QR Code

In the late night hours at an off campus house party, a recent college graduate residing in Somerset County indicates that he and his friends look at each other and begin to figure out who is the least "drunk "to drive them all home. This behavior he conceded as well as excessive drinking continues to be a huge problem in the young adult population. This information was provided during a focus group facilitated by EmPoWER Somerset with 11 young adults between the ages of 18-25 in Somerville. These young adults also shared that they were eager to be part of preventing this almost routine scenario. They said the most effective way of reaching their peers was through the internet. More than half of these young adults spend over 5 hours a day on the internet and they would much rather than text than have a phone conversation.

Our young adults are the first generation to grow up with the internet, talk through texting in their own language and know the pitfalls of being tagged in a picture on facebook of an "oh crap" moment from from excessive drinking the night before. So my question was what is the best way to use the latest technology to prevent young adults from making a bad decision that could affect them for the rest of their life. Their answer was use humor to get their attention and provide helpful information with no more than one click. So the Quick Response (QR) code and text message campaign began.
Last Thanksgiving EmPoWER Somerset through its Somerset Initiative for Partying Safely (SIPS) collaborated with The Courier News, Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano, Somerset County Sherriff Frank Provenzano and the Somerset County Chiefs of Police Association to provide an historic crack down on underage liquor sales and drinking and driving. This year, these efforts will continue along with an added feature – local bars will be using quick response codes to advertise taxi companies to help get them home safely. Young adults will simply use their smart phone to scan the codes on table tents, posters and business cards to easily view a list of taxi companies.

The SIPS young adult volunteer committee will help distribute posters and table tents to 15 popular area night spots including Maestro 206, Mannions and Alfonoso’s, whose manager Kari Werther indicated would be happy to participate. Local bars and restaurants have been invaluable partners in helping prevent underage access to alcohol. Alfonso’s has hosted four "Techniques of Alcohol Management" (TAM) trainings, reaching over 130 alcohol servers from throughout Somerset County. During Superbowl weekend 2011, several local bars helped advertise taxi services, although the initiative this Thanksgiving will be the first to incorporate the use of QR codes.

The SIPS coalition comprised of 30 volunteers representing every sector of our community, provides a comprehensive needs assessment and multi tiered approach to decrease excessive alcohol consumption in the young adult population. This year alone through collaborative efforts SIPS has reached over 15,000 Somerset County residents, collected over 300 young adult designated driver pledges, held 5 awareness events including 2 at Raritan Valley Community College led by SIPS spokesperson Casey Randazzo. Thousands more will be reached through placement of community kiosks and the development of a video PSA, both in the works. Young adults 18 and over are invited to audition for a lead role in the SIPS intergenerational video PSA at a casting call on Monday, November 28th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. in Bridgewater.

Anyone interested in participating in any SIPS initiatives should contact Cheryl Torres at EmPoWER Somerset at moc.tesremosrewopme@lyrehc or visit empowersomerset.com.


Bridgwater Raritan to crack down on teen drinking, tailgating at football games

Article by Sergio Bichao

BRIDGEWATER — School officials this week began warning parents and students that police will arrest anyone caught with alcohol during sporting events.

The announcement — first made by Superintendent Mike Schilder during Tuesday’s school board meeting — follows a Sept. 22 home game during which several teenagers were removed after being accused of being under the influence, school officials said.
While Schilder said he wants to “nip this (problem) in the bud,” drug-use surveys of teenagers in Somerset County and the state suggest more students are showing up to school drunk or taking drugs right under their teachers’ noses.
Schilder said an extra Bridgewater police officer will help patrol school grounds during the next home game Thursday against Immaculata High School. The district’s $18,000 high school security budget already pays for five police officers patrol after-school events.
School officials did not say how many students were involved in the Sept. 16 incident, or whether they faced disciplinary action, but officials said the students were pulled aside and released to their parents.
Schilder said that in the future people who are caught with alcohol on school property will be arrested and charged with a disorderly persons offense.
School board President Evan Lerner did not attend the Sept. 16 football game but said his daughter was there and saw a student “get ill” in the bathroom, likely from alcohol.
“I suspect it’s not uncommon,” Lerner said, adding that there is “some tailgating” by adults in the parking lots before high school games and that alcohol consumption tends to be a part of the professional “football mentality.”
“Tailgating at the Jets and Giants games is acceptable within reason,” he said. “But it doesn’t translate to high school football.”
Schilder did not return a call for comment, but did email a statement to the Courier News.
“I’m not sure how much of a problem this is at this point, but we want to nip it in the bud before it does become an even bigger problem,” he wrote Friday.
That may be too late, according to Sharon Lutz, executive director of Empower Somerset, a nonprofit that works with law enforcement to promote drug-abuse awareness and prevention programs.
Lutz said a growing number of teenagers are showing up to school intoxicated — and not just on alcohol.
Prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall, which are used to treat attention deficit and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders, are being sold for $30 a pill on Somerset County high school campuses and consumed by students looking to boost their attention spans during standardized-testing periods.
Painkillers such as oxycodone, which can be used to get high, are selling for as much as $7.50 a pill, she said.
“Sports seem to be a breeding ground and the problem is very understated,” Lutz said. “The whole sporting event is another opportunity for the kids to conjugate and have fun together.”

Building Bridges

Building Bridges June/July 2011


Celebrating Diversity
Submitted by Alice Hunnicutt, State Director
Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Alice’s Angle

Diversity has many faces. We think of gender, origin, the color of a person’s skin, the language a person speaks, economic status, and even family structure. Employers look at their workforce in terms of diversity because it makes such good business sense. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development expanded its definition of diversity officially when the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services was formally moved into the Workforce area a year ago. The DVRS provides services to individuals with disabilities seeking competitive employment. Competitive jobs generate tax revenue and this enables individuals of all abilities to spend discretionary income which contributes to the state’s economy.

It was an honor for me to represent the Department at the second annual Disability Awareness Day on Saturday, June18th at the TD Bank Ball Park. This event was sponsored by EmPoWER Somerset, an agency that has been serving individuals, families and communities of Somerset County for over 35 years. Over 400 families and individuals with disabilities attended the event. Booths were set up that included information on a myriad of topics related to disability, including information from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services.

Individuals with disabilities seeking employment were able to get connected to New Jersey’s diverse workforce system on June 18th, and the Somerset Patriots won the game. It was a win-win for everybody!

Letting Parents in on Substance Abuse Secrets

Star Ledger, Saturday, April 16th article by Eugene Paik

Bridgewater: Rachel Colonna has heard stories of students at the Somerset County Vocational and Technical High School abusing "bath salts," Spice and K2 — so-called "designer drugs."

What she wanted to know was which chemicals she hadn’t heard about.

Colonna, a substance-abuse counselor at the Bridgewater school, was among a dozen people who attended a seminar at the high school Thursday about addictive substances popular with students but unknown to parents.

"The kids are always one step ahead, unfortunately," Colonna said.

County youth services officials and local substance abuse awareness advocate EmPoWER Somerset were moved to hold the seminar for parents after Spice, K2, bath salts and Four Loko made headlines over the past year.

Not to be confused with actual bath-related powders, bath salts are substances that are sold over-the-counter under a variety of names and have been linked to violence. State lawmakers are considering a bill to ban them.

Authorities said they are investigating whether a possible abuse of bath salts in any way contributed to William Parisio’s alleged killing of his girlfriend, Rutgers University senior Pamela Schmidt, at Parisio’s Cranford home last month.

Federal lawmakers are also cracking down on Four Loko, an alcohol-based energy drink, and the marijuana-like substances Spice and K2.

Hillsborough police Detective Trevor Oldenburg said there are about two to three rescue calls a month in his township related to these designer drugs.

Also of concern are substances such as the herb salvia, which recently saw an uptick in popularity after an internet video showed pop star Miley Cyrus smoking it.

And it’s not just drug-like chemicals that are troublesome, said Sharon Lutz, executive director of EmPoWER Somerset. Untraditional alcoholic products can be easily accessed by children, with companies selling small, disposable pouches of booze and alcoholic whipped cream.

Detective Jeff Dockery of the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office said the answer to controlling those substances isn’t simply making them illegal because they frequently change shape "and you’ll never have it totally defended against."

What’s key is educating the public about their effects and the ease in getting them, he said. Children who use the substances sometimes think the chemicals are safer than traditional drugs.

"That bag of heroin is no different than the synthetic version," Dockery said. "It’s just a different chemist."

Parents, meanwhile, need to understand that children are clever in masking their substance use, Lutz said.

They can stash drinks or drugs in water bottles and chip canisters. They can also store alcohol in retail-sold sports sandals that have flasks in their heels. If parents do find their children using these substances, Dockery said, the important thing to do is seek help.

"You can’t always be a friend," Dockery said. "You have to be a parent."


Legal Substances in Bath Salts Increasingly Abused, Linked to Hallucinations

Courier News, Home News Tribune & Asbury Park Press-Apr 10, 2011 | By MARK SPIVEY

The Vaults of Erowid might sound like a location in a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, but it’s something else entirely: a comprehensive online collection of information about a wide range of psychoactive substances, where one can read seemingly endless testimonials penned by marijuana users describing feelings of relaxation, cocaine users writing about nervous energy, even heroin users discussing their desperation to kick their habit.

But there’s one substance about which these testimonials, with few exceptions, trend toward the nightmarish end of the spectrum more often than those describing many other drugs. Yet as of now, the substance also is perfectly legal to buy over the counter in most U.S. states, New Jersey included, marketed as 250- or 500-milligram packages of bath salts selling for $50 or less.

"It honestly felt like I was dying, and there was no way to make it better unless I redosed," one Erowid contributor named "GRiMM" posted on June 10, 2010, about Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, more commonly known as MDPV. "MDPV is perhaps one of the dirtiest highs I have ever felt, and the comedown is one of the worst feelings in the world . . . looking back, we probably did close to 75-100 mg each in exchange for our souls and the worst experience of our lives."

Physicians nationwide during recent months have cited symptoms of MDPV use closely mirroring those described in many of the testimonials, saying it can cause increased blood pressure and heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, paranoia and delusions, with a particularly high incidence of intense cravings and addiction.

Use of the drug first started making headlines in New Jersey last month when a Cranford resident told the Courier News and other media outlets that she believed her son William was under the long-term influence of "bath salts" around the time authorities allege he killed his longtime girlfriend, Pamela Schmidt, in the basement of his home. Diane Parisio said her son told her he purchased the substances in at least one New Brunswick convenience store before trying it for the first time in January.

MDPV seems to be as easy to acquire here as it is just about anywhere in the many states that have yet to institute a ban on the sale, possession or transportation of the drugs. States that already have imposed bans include Florida, North Dakota and Louisiana.

"We did some field research here and were able to purchase them from a reputable Internet retail (website)," said Brenda Esler, assistant director of the Somerville-based Somerset EmPoWER, an organization dedicated to the prevention of substance abuse, addiction and related problems. "We purchased it for $10."

"Thebiggest thing that I’m concerned about is kids having a misconception that it’s not illegal, therefore it’s safer," Esler explained.

It’s a pattern that extends back decades, according to Douglas S. Collier, a special agent with the New Jersey Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Collier applauded the efforts of state legislators who during recent weeks have moved to ban MDPV and mephedrone from New Jersey store shelves.

Assemblywoman Linda Stender, D-Union, and Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex, announced a bill that would make it a third-degree crime punishable by three to five years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines to manufacture, distribute or possess products containing the drugs. But what likely would strike a devastating blow to the growing trend is a federal ban, Collier added.