Local towns, schools unite to stem drug use

Staff Writer

With Monmouth County facing a growing drug problem, a group of local municipalities and school districts are joining together to combat drug use among students.

Jennifer Czajkowski, student assistance counselor at Shore Regional High School in West Long Branch, said last week that the Shore Regional Municipal Drug Alliance is being formed to provide a better system for channeling services and information to parents and students in Oceanport, Sea Bright, Monmouth Beach and West Long Branch.

“We are just trying to bring awareness, just a push so resources are a little bit more available,” she said in a Dec. 4 interview.

“We are not a formal alliance in that we are not getting funds from the state; this is kind of a grassroots effort to spread the awareness, spread the information, spread the resources that are here that people may not know where to get.”

Oceanport, Sea Bright, West Long Branch and Monmouth Beach will be represented in the alliance, which will also have representatives from Shore Regional High School and the Oceanport, Monmouth Beach and West Long Branch school districts.

The Oceanport Borough Council formalized participation in the alliance by approving a resolution during its Dec. 3 meeting. Czajkowski credited Mayor Michael Mahon for leading the charge to create the alliance.

Mahon said he began looking into forming the alliance after two drug-related deaths in the borough during the past year.

“Because of what has happened in Oceanport over the last year — two deaths related to drug addiction — we have basically led the charge for this relationship to be renewed and for it to be organized this way,” he said. “Each of the communities and the school districts has a similar resolution creating a Shore Regional drug alliance.” There have already been two monthly meetings of the alliance, and Mahon said representatives from the Monmouth County Office of Addiction Services, Prevention First and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office have attended.

The alliance’s first official event will be held at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at Shore Regional High School with Monmouth County native David Dolan speaking about his experiences with drug addiction and recovery.

“I’ve heard this individual speak at another school district — it is something you don’t want to miss,” Mahon said. “It is certainly captivating and informative, and I think it is a message that gets through.”

According to Mahon, the borough will use social media tools, as well as Code Red, to alert residents of the Dec. 11 program and other drug alliance programs in the future.

“We will be doing a general broadcast in each of the municipalities via email, Code Red, etc. And Shore Regional will be doing it through their system to school-age children and their families to get them to attend some of these seminars,” he said.

According to Mahon, the alliance will have a registration table at the Dec. 11 event to collect contact information for parents interested in learning more.

He said the alliance represents a renewed effort to alert the public to some of the programs that are available.

“There are existing resources at hand, and all we are doing is working together to do what we currently do, but to do it in an organized manner and to share it uniformly with the public in each of our communities,” Mahon said.

Although a schedule of events and programs has yet to be developed, Czajkowski said one of the aims of the drug prevention programs is to reach children at a young age,

“As early as possible — it is never too soon,” she said. “They start with programs in elementary school, and then they progress through middle school and high school.”

Mahon said he would also like to find a way to extend some of the programs and services beyond the school year.

“They are looking ahead to see how we can maintain programming and maintain the support or safety net when school is out of session, so we don’t lose the connection or the support over the summer months or immediately after the children have graduated,” he said.

Czajkowski said the alliance would replace a similar alliance between Oceanport, West Long Branch and Long Branch in place a few years ago.

“There was an alliance called the Coastal Alliance a few years back,” she said. “We had alliance coordinators, and they left and the paperwork and everything just became too tremendous. And it just kind of disintegrated.

“Now, with the heroin epidemic — which is just not going away anytime soon — and all the issues that are plaguing the state and our communities, Mayor Mahon wanted to re-form the alliance.”