Opioid Task Force holds awareness walk through town

Photos by Daniel Jackovino
Awareness walk participants set out from Municipal Plaza.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Essex Opioid Task Force held its second awareness walk on Saturday morning, Nov. 2.

Beginning in Newark and passing through Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Montclair, Verona and culminating at Caldwell College with a luncheon.

The starting point, at Bloomfield Fire Headquarters on Municipal Plaza, was hosted by Hazel House, a cooperative, sober-living residency in Bloomfield, with Hazel House residents assisting. Before setting off, walkers heard from a recovering young addict named Brady, whose substance abuse began with painkillers. He was introduced to the audience by Dylan, another young recovering substance abuser.

Mayor Michael Venezia also spoke at the event.
“This is an issue which touches every community,” he said. “Last week we had three heroin overdoses and Narcan was given. A town employee was caught with heroin on the job after taking pain relievers.”

Venezia said the employee was admitted into rehabilitation and is back to work.
The task force is the creation of Robin Lavorato, who now serves as its coordinator. In a telephone interview earlier this week, Lavorato said the reaction to the organization has been overwhelming since its inception, so much so that it has become a nonprofit within the Essex Health and Wellness Recovery Center at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark.

“We know the task force has made a difference,” she said. “We had close to 400 walkers this year, double from last year. The Newark and Orange police departments have reached out to us to train officers on Naloxone, which reverses an opioid overdose. We had a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency helicopter escort the walk up Bloomfield Avenue this year. And Agent Jim Hunt, who helped take down the drug lord ‘El Chapo,’ was at our luncheon again. There was amazing stuff on Saturday.”

The task force, Lavorato said, has trained nurses in the Orange School District in the use of Naloxone.
“We also speak at high schools and helped to create a documentary at Montclair High School called ‘Not My Choice.’”

Lavorato said she has seen opioid addicts as young as 13 years old and as old as 80. There are two paths individuals take into opioid addiction, she said. One path is taken by young people who begin by experimenting with drugs. Drug pushers target these youngsters for more addictive substances. The other path into addiction is provided by health care professionals who overprescribe painkillers, or do not adequately monitor their use.

Another problem Lavorato sees is an unwillingness by the substance abusers or family members to seek help.
“Opioid addiction is a disease and people shouldn’t be embarrassed,” she said. “People who recover should be proud of themselves. We celebrate survivors of other diseases.”

Lavorato can be reached at 862-485-8811 or at rlhealthguide@gmail.com.