June 24, 2017
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A Rejuvenated D.A.R.E. Can Combat Opioid Epidemic, Cops Say

Posted on May 1, 2017 by in Hometown, New Jersey, News

New Jersey D.A.R.E. Officers Association

By Dave Hutchinson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com.

Right: Statewide members of the New Jersey D.A.R.E. Officers Association met on Monday at the Ocean County Police Academy.

In the wake of the growing heroin and opioid epidemic, New Jersey’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education – also known as D.A.R.E. – program is regaining its footing after years of neglect because of the lack of funding.

On Monday, statewide members of the New Jersey D.A.R.E. Officers Association met at the Ocean County Police Academy to discuss proactive education initiatives to keep adolescents safe from drugs and violence.

D.A.R.E. officers from Atlantic, Bergen, Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris,  Ocean, Salem, Somerset, Union, and Warren attended the meeting. All 21 counties in the state have D.A.R.E. programs to varying degrees.

In Somerset County, Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson has said that drug education is one of his top priorities and the key to combating the issue.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” he said.

Nearly 1,600 people died of drug overdoses in New Jersey in 2015 — two times the national rate and a 22 percent increase from the year prior. The State Police didn’t immediately have any statistics available from 2016.

Gov. Chris Christie has been in the forefront of the fight against opioid addiction and in March, President Donald Trump named him chair of the White House commission on opioid addiction.

Ocean County Undersheriff Rick Bergquist, a former Chief of Police in Brick Township and president of the Board for Drug Advocacy and Drug Education in New Jersey, hosted Monday’s meeting.

“We’re just trying to establish training and policy priorities and share ideas so we can continue to spread and enhance the D.A.R.E. program throughout the state,” he said. “Around 2008, budget cuts greatly crippled the program and we lost a lot of good instructors.

“Now, with an improved economy, the funding has returned. Being in Ocean County, which I think has been Ground Zero for the opioid epidemic, I know first-hand how important drug education programs are for our youth. I think that’s our best opportunity to attack this problem.”

Bergquist said a D.A.R.E mentoring training program will be held at the Bridgewater Elks Lodge from May 22 to 26.

Dave Hutchinson may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DHutch_SL. Find NJ.com on Facebook.