At schools across North Jersey, Old Tappan resident Nancy Labov links the students with volunteers who discuss the dangers of drug use by telling their own stories of addiction.
“We can create the solution,” said Labov, founder of Alumni in Recovery (AIR) seeks to combat drug addiction — especially opioid addictions and overdoses — by allowing former addicts to speak with students and parents about the dangers of getting hooked on anything from alcohol to opioids.
In 2017, there were 1,969 drug overdose deaths involving opioids in New Jersey, double the national rate, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse Web site. Alcohol abuse is also prevalent in the state, with about 407,000 underage youth drinking each year, according to the Web site of the state Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Labov, a nurse and registered drug counselor, overcame her struggles with alcohol abuse and assembled a team of people whose past struggles mirror her own. Founded in 2014, the group has held presentations and dinners throughout North Jersey to encourage open dialogue about a problem Labov said some choose not to discuss because of the stigma attached to addiction.
“Stigma is the biggest reason those with addiction and mental health issues don’t seek help,” said Shauna Moses, vice president of public affairs at the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies. “It’s being open about these issues can be a key for those dealing with addiction. “The more open people are, the more progress they make.”
The group, which consists of 60 volunteers, visits schools in Bergen, Passaic and Essex counties to let the volunteers tell their stories of addiction in hopes of dissuading students from trying drugs. AIR has given presentations in more than 75 schools this school year.
“AIR crosses the lines between different groups of people and allows them to intermingle,” Labov said.
Labov also hopes to fill the emotional voids of those who have lost loved ones to addiction while allowing those who recovered to share their experiences. She does this by encouraging members of the group to share their stories and establish an open dialogue about the damage it causes. A dinner at Labov’s home was meant to coordinate the AIR PAIRent program, where recovered addicts pair with parents who lost children to addiction.
“It is healing for them,” Labov said. “This is way bigger than me.”