A groundbreaking approach to drug awareness among teens, which also builds bridges with law enforcement, begins in Manchester Township.

#NOTEVENONCE, according to township police, takes its cue from a comment that they hear repeatedly from those in the throes of addiction - that if they had never tried opiates even once, they also wouldn't have faced the ensuing health, legal and social problems.

The program is directed to students in Grade 12. School Resource Officer Chris Cerullo, Detective Adam Emmons, and Patrolment Joseph Fastige and Keith Crag developed the program in mid-2016, in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, recovery coaches and the Manchester Township Municipal Alliance.

Teachers Dana Cerullo and Melissa Nazario, spouses of township police officers, wrote the curriculum during Summer 2016.

Chief LIsa Parker and Schools Superintendent David Trethaway believe that #NOTEVENONCE could benefit students all over New Jersey. They plan to present it to the Ocean County Superintendent's Office and the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police.

The multi-faceted program aims to drive home the dangers of opiate abuse, enlighten students to the spectrum of potential traps in prescription medications as well as heroin, and to help them reach informed decisions.

"The opiate addiction problem in Ocean County has reached an epidemic level," Chief Parker said, "and we cannot pretend that this issue will go away. We must be proactive, and reaching high school students is an excellent start."

With three weeks remaining until the end of 2016, Ocean County has recorded a record 180 overdose deaths. Forty-one overdose cases have been reported in Manchester this year, 10 fatal. In 2015, Ocean County registered 118 overdose deaths, and Manchester had 46 cases with three fatalities.

Since its July 2014 inception, the Manchester PD Narcotics Enforcement Team has completed 370 arrests, executed 21 search warrants, and seized about $39,000 cash and 32 vehicles, police said.

#NOTEVENONCE is administered in a three-day span. First, students are given a PowerPoint presentation explaining who is affected by opiates, how opium and its derivatives differ from other drugs, and how extensive the threat has become in, and around, the township.

On the second day, students engage discussion with a recovery coach, a onetime addict who has recovered and learned how to help others in recovery. Recovery coaches speak about their personal circumstances, and describe the live of an addict.

The third day becomes more unsettling, as students view a video interview of a Manchester Township High School graduate inside the Ocean County Jail in Toms River, who relates his story as a student athlete whose sports injury led to prescription pills, heroin, and arrest.

Officers also reveal the scenes they've encountered in response calls, and the impacts of addiciton in their own families.

School Resource Officer Cerullo underscored the value of raising consciousness that no one is invulnerable. "Even as members of law enforcement, we have friends and family who are addicted. This program helps to humanize law enforcement and show students that we are all dealing with this problem."

Police involved with the initial sessions said that students expressed surprise at the drug activity overall, even in their own neighborhoods, and valued the officers' willingness to discuss their own experiences.

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