Ocean County is pushing education as a weapon against its heroin epidemic, drawing close to 1,000 students and parents for a forum about the drug's dangers.

Can We Talk Forum at Toms River's Pine Belt Arena (Photo by Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media)

Titled "Can We Talk," the forum was hosted Thursday night at Toms River's Pine Belt Arena by the DART Coalition and Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.

While the subject matter was deathly serious and the information grim, the audience in attendance was younger than the usual seminar about hard narcotics. Many of the students were middle schoolers from across the county.

Ocean County has already seen 93 overdoses this year, and Prosecutor Joseph Coronato says their battle with heroin is a "struggle for survival," adding the importance of reaching out to children at an early age.

"I'm a parent, if I tell my kids not to do something, chances are they probably won't listen. But if these middle school children and high schoolers are at a party and they're told by their peers not to do something, they're liable to listen to them," Coronato said.

The forum featured several speakers, including a presentation from a former DEA Agent and liaison to the US Attorney General, former Giants running back Keith Elias, and the mother of a young man left paralyzed and brain damaged after an overdose.

Coronato spoke about the need for the "Prosecution, Education, and Treatment" approach. During the forum, he said he wants to see more opportunities for rehabilitation and drug courts, as well more training in the use of Nalaxone (a drug to counter the effects of an overdose) by police. He hopes to take this route, all the while strengthening prescription drug laws and heroin dosing statues - to charge by the dosage amounts rather than weight.

"We need to be ruthless with dealers," he said.

During the presentation, parents were made aware that heroin use was often preceded by prescription drug. Ocean County Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Anthony Pierro notes its important parents realize the seriousness of the problem.

"You live in a great place, you live in a safe community, but don't think that just because those two things are there that you're immune; that your child doesn't see these thing, couldn't access these things if he or she wanted to," Pierro said.