Toms River native and author Alicia Cook, who now resides in Newark, is an advocate for families affected by drug addiction, and hopes for change in society to eliminate the stigma associated with it and has expanded on her vision for a healthier community in a newly released book called 'I Hope My Voice Doesn't Skip'.

The book follows two other publications, 'Stuff I've Been Feeling Lately' and 'Heroin Is The Worst Thing To Ever Happen To Me', and it expands on her social advocacy of raising awareness and education on those suffering with the disease of drug addiction by adding in the topics of "relationships, mental health, current social issues, and learning from loss, with the promise that recovery is possible."

Some of the issues and how they're approached though, remain the same, by many people in society in general.

Denial is one of the more common emotions someone experiences when they don't want to believe something, especially when it comes to addiction.

Cook dives into the 'not my child' belief by explaining that it could happen to anyone so quick action is needed.

"The most important thing is identifying and accepting the fact that there is a problem, because the quicker it's identified, the quicker you realize your loved one is using something, whatever substance it may be...the quicker you can jump into action" Cook said.

She says as soon as you notice your child's behavior is off, question them about it.

"Just be honest with yourself, don't think that it can't happen to your family," Cook said. "I think that's the biggest way we get in our own way is thinking 'not my kid, not my family'."

She says addiction does not discriminate.

"I do believe addiction is a disease, I'm scientifically backed at this point, but there are many people out there who still do not believe it's a disease," Cook said. "Though it may start out as a choice, especially with opiates, it completely re-configures your brain and you're never the same again."

As New Jersey battles its opioid and heroin epidemic, Cook continues raising awareness of the problem and urging change to find people help.

Recovery is part of what her message is in her new book.

We're in the midst of a national health crisis, Cook says, we need more funding across the country for treatment so people can recover.

"When someone with substance abuse disorder becomes lucid and realizes they need help, and they might be ready for detox and then rehab...when they make that call, a bed needs to be ready right at that moment," Cook said. "If it's not ready for a day or two, they might change their mind or be dead by then."

Another problem, she says, is the cost to go into rehab and how much will be covered by health insurance.

"Funding is one of the biggest things, I wanted this crisis to be declared a National Health Emergency not a Public Health Emergency because the difference in those words is the difference in funding," Cook said. "It wasn't and I was disappointed because it is a national health crisis...not just here, it's everywhere, it's international."

The non-profit 'Hope Sheds Light' in Toms River is offering a helping hand to anyone at anytime affected by drug addiction find a way out.

Whether it's an alcohol or drug addiction, an eating disorder or a mental illness, there is often a stigma associated with those illnesses, leaving many afraid to seek help for fear of being judged.

Cook says people, especially families need to accept the condition, then help them conquer it.

"You just have to be open and realize that no one is perfect and these issues do arise and these diseases do arise and they happen to good families," Cook said. "It doesn't matter who you are, it could happen."

She encourages those in need of recovery and treatment to speak openly and honestly so they can get the help they need.

While legalizing marijuana in New Jersey seems more and more likely to happen, a debate over whether it should be lingers on.

One of the reasons those opposed argue against it is that it's a gateway drug.

Cook says that depends on the person, making this issue a slippery slope.

"Has every person addicted to heroin smoked marijuana? Probably. But has every marijuana user gone on to become addicted to heroin? Probably not, but you never know," Cook said.

Her concern with legalization is what it could do to drugs being sold on the streets.

"Will other harder drugs be pushed more because marijuana is available legally?," Cook said. "Going all the way to the cartels, what is going to be pushed more on our streets, in our neighborhoods...if you can go and just buy marijuana? That's something we'll have to see."

Alicia discusses more about these issues and more in her new book in the video below.

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