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NJ kids starting drugs as young as 10 — Demand grows for youth treatment

As the opioid painkiller and heroin abuse epidemic continues to swirl in New Jersey, a growing number of youth drug programs are being offered. But experts say supply is not keeping up with demand.

“Unfortunately, money is always the issue. It takes funding to have effective programs being implemented,” said Diane Litterer, the CEO of the New Jersey Prevention Network.

She said there are simply not enough drug treatment programs that are specifically designed for kids and teens, “And that’s frustrating because we know that prevention works if it’s done to the level that kids really need.”

Pat Campbell, director of the group Families Matter, says part of the problem is adolescents are starting to use drugs at an earlier age.

“It used to be maybe 13 or 14, guys and gals beginning to smoke marijuana, but now sometimes we get clients as young as 10,” she said.

“We do have some younger people getting into the medicine cabinets and taking some of the pain medication and starting with that.”

Campbell added, “Unfortunately there are not enough programs that offer youth specific services. And the fact that the age of onset is getting younger and younger, there’s always a demand for substance abuse treatment.”

She said drug treat programs for younger kids and teens are somewhat different than programs for adults.

“Peer support and peer pressure is key for those younger guys. We hope for them to develop better, more positive relationships.”

She pointed out in addition to getting information about the dangers of drug, kids are encouraged to build a support system that looks at more holistic and healthier ways of living and as part of their treatment. They’re encouraged to get involved in volunteer work and get jobs in their communities.

She explained the educational component of Thrive, a drug treatment program they’ve developed especially designed for kids, is the same as the program offered to adults.

She said in the youth programs that are offered, “We do significantly more experiential type things, more team building, we do some physical stuff outside, we have a nice big back yard.”

Litterer said a lot of times there is the tendency to look for that quick fix, to simply tell children drugs are dangerous. “But we’ve learned through many years and experience and research that it’s just a very small piece to the puzzle.”

She stressed to be effective, drug programs for kids must incorporate the support system they need at school, at home and in their community.

The state Department of Children and Families provides funding for dozens of different programs and services around the State, at facilities that are both in and out patient.

To learn what programs are available in different communities, you can call a DCF toll-free hotline, 877-652-7624.

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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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