The Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey is hosting a town hall in Toms River, one of Ocean County's hardest hit areas, where residents and experts are invited to share their thoughts on the opioid epidemic and seek help for others or themselves.

A 'Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall' is being sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey and The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, through its philanthropic arm, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, is collaborating with PDFNJ on a new two-year Knock Out Opioid Abuse initiative to address the opioid epidemic through community outreach, prescriber education, parent education and a statewide awareness campaign.

The Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall Series is bringing in experts on the opioid epidemic from various fields, including law enforcement, the medical community, government, prevention, treatment and recovery together for events in all 21 New Jersey counties between 2019 and 2020.

The Toms River Town Hall is also being held in collaboration with Hope Sheds Light and the Ocean County Prosecutor¹s Office.

In 2018, Ocean County's 217 drug overdose deaths, most of which involved some form of opioid, ranked fourth among New Jersey's 21 counties, according to the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.

Law enforcement officers administered the overdose antidote, naloxone, 811 times that same year.

Angelo Valente, the Executive Director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey says this is an opportunity for Toms River and Ocean County residents and community leaders to come together and address the epidemic.

"It's an opportunity for everyone to become engaged in addressing the opioid epidemic and understanding the epidemic," Valente said. "We all know that every community has been impacted and unfortunately Toms River is one of those communities that have really been severely impacted by this epidemic."

A panel (from left to right) Dr. Vikram Varma of Community Medical Center, Executive Director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey Angelo Valente, former Ocean County Prosecutor Joe Coronato, Executive Assistant for the U.S. Attorney for the district of NJ Sabrina Comizzoli, and Newark DEA Special Agent in charge, Carl Kotowski speak on a 2017 panel on the dangers of drug addiction. (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media)

Valente said the Town Hall will also provide resources for family members who have a loved one struggling with addiction.

While there's been some progress in the fight, we're still in the throngs of the epidemic.

"We don't want to see one life lost to this epidemic," Valente said. "I think we are making progress, I think as a society and a state we are becoming much more involved in coming up with solutions to the epidemic and coming up with ways to stem the tide however we have a long way to go and that's why these town halls are so important."

Through a collaborative approach, we can take a step to finding impactful solutions.

"The opioid epidemic is a multifaceted issue that requires a dynamic approach in which parents, community leaders, students and residents must work together and develop ways to resolve this public health crisis," Valente said. "There are no easy answers for solving the opioid epidemic, but together we can make a difference in this important fight."

The Town Hall will also help those impacted by or struggling with addiction.

"Individuals who are in the audience and dealing with this issue very personally will see that long term recovery is possible," Valente said.

The panel of speakers at the Town Hall will include Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer, Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher, Reverend Susan Jones of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Beverly Prima, Hope Sheds Light and Heather Price, Volunteer Coordinator for Hope Sheds Light and a Person in Long-Term Recovery.

The Toms River town hall is free to attend and open to all community members who are interesting in learning more about the opioid epidemic and how to become a part of the solution.

The event will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 25 in Mancini Hall at the Ocean County Library - Toms River Branch, 101 Washington Street, Toms River.

Doors open at 10:00 a.m.

For more information on the Toms River Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall or to see a list of other upcoming town halls, visit knockoutopioidabuse.drugfreenj.org.

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