TOMS RIVER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — New Jersey has a new tactic to prevent kids from getting hooked on opioids, especially student-athletes.
Ocean County is one of the areas hit the hardest by the opioid epidemic.
“Where we are, like, geographically, there’s a pretty bad epidemic already,” Anna Strucki, a senior at Toms River North High School, told CBS2’s Meg Baker.
The Toms River Board of Education is introducing a new video to educate student-athletes on the crisis.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced a new plan to have all high school student-athletes and their parents watch a mandatory video about addiction starting this winter season.
“Last year in New Jersey, there were over 3,000 drug-related deaths,” Grewal says on the video “Athletes vs. Opioids.” “And most of those were caused by heroin or the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl. Listen, no one wakes up one day deciding to become a heroin user. Four out of 5 heroin users started by abusing prescription opioids,” Grewal said.
The video features professional athletes with advice on how to treat an injury without taking narcotics.
“I wanted to make sure I did everything I needed to do personally without having to take the opioids, because I knew that once you start opioids there is a high risk to not being able to stop. You see a lot of people getting addicted to it,” New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa says on the video.
“When I was injured I spoke to my doctors about different ways to relieve pain, so I didn’t have to turn to opioids. I would do therapy. I would do physical therapy. I would do massage. I would do ice baths. I would do a lot of different things instead of automatically turning to prescription pain pills,” former U.S. Olympic soccer player Heather O’Reilley adds.
The video also features locals who once played high school sports, but got hurt and then addicted.
“In a short period of time it led to homelessness, overdoses, abscesses, robbing houses, other people’s houses. All sorts of things I normally wouldn’t do if weren’t under the influence,” a former athlete named “Matt” says.
The attorney general is urging all student-athletes to talk to their coaches, parents and doctors about alternatives to prescription painkillers so that they do not become one of the statistics.
“Rest, ice, heating, a bunch of alternatives that can make you feel better other than drugs,” said Toms River North junior Jake Kazanowsky, the quarterback on the football team.
Administrators at Toms River North say athletics and after-school activities help keep kids accountable and out of trouble.
That’s why Superintendent David Healy is worried about severe deductions in state aid that have already caused the district to cut 55 assistant coaches.
“We have greater concern with opioids because we may potentially have thousands and thousands of our children out on the streets because of the reduction in co-curricular and athletics,” Healy said.
“We want them around role models and we want them busy doing healthy activities,” said Ted Gillen, Toms River School District athletic director.
The district educates all students on opioid dangers in health class but says there is always a need to do more.
Toms River is holding a Knock Our Opioid Abuse event Wednesday at the Ocean County Library branch to address the ongoing crisis.