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Del Val High School holds six-hour opioid assembly

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Delaware Valley High School’s upperclassmen were given the word on opioids on March 29, and the word is #NotEvenOnce.

That’s the distillation of six hours of auditorium time as state troopers Joe Seidler and Mike Guenther presented a program devised by the Manchester Police Department in Ocean County, N.J., customized for Del Val.

The tailoring was done by School Resource Officer Seidler, including plenty of talking time for his predecessor, who came in on his day off. Trooper Guenther, Del Val Class of 2006, variously charmed and harangued the students. They had naturally gravitated away from the stage, filling the back two-thirds of the auditorium. Aiming to bridge that gap, the uniformed, armed and belted troopers shared some of humanizing background.

Seidler played football, baseball and lacrosse at his South Jersey high school before studying business management and serving in the Army. He showed boyhood pictures, including a haircut apparently done with a bowl and scissors, plus a recent photo of himself with his children, ages 2 and 5.

Guenther, who mixed jokes with the grim facts, answered the unasked question: “How did I get to look this good in this uniform?” He grew up in Alexandria Township, N.J., and went to Del Val where he wrestled, played football and acted in school plays. He studied psychology and criminal justice in college, opting for the more-active of the two career path because he wanted “to chase bad guys.”

Seidler told about his Ohio cousin, Chris, who suffered a snowboarding injury, took Oxycontin as prescribed and became addicted. But when he couldn’t afford the pills, he switched to heroin. Then he and his girlfriend overdosed and died. Guenther told of his own experience serving the local area, “holding crying parents, after I told them their loved one had just died.”

The program included the testimony, recorded in Ocean County Jail, of Correy Wood, who became a burglar to support his opioid addiction. Other videos showed the ongoing anguish of parents whose children had overdosed and died; and one showing the sordid lifestyle of Monet Lerner, former star of TV’s “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” who is now homeless and addicted.

One Hunterdon couple, John and Cheryl, were there in person. They told of their son’s ongoing battle with alcoholism and opioid addiction. In high school he played soccer and performed in musicals, then went off to Fairleigh Dickinson University. Unable to function anymore, he flunked out and asked for help. Now at age 24, he has no driver’s license, suffers memory loss and his life is a daily struggle. Over the past four years, he has been to the funerals of eight people with whom he has been in rehab.

Cheryl told the students, “Think twice. You may be one of the unfortunate ones who are predisposed to addiction.”

Seidler explained that street drugs contain unknown quantities of heroin or the much-stronger and cheaper fentanyl, which leads so often to overdoses and death. He shared statistics showing the steep rise in overdoses statewide and countywide.

The troopers reminded students that when someone blacks out from drinking or a drug overdose, new laws protect anyone who calls 911. “If you alert us, you’re covered,” said Seidler. “If you don’t call, you will get into trouble.”

Seidler said of the counselors and teachers at Del Val, “I promise you they care about you and want to see you succeed.” Reach out and they’ll help you.

Guenther invited at-risk students to call him, and he’ll bring cookies and hang out, a better idea than using drugs.

In closing, Seidler advised, “Hang out with the best people you can find, and expose yourself to positive influences.”

Principal Adrienne Olcott said later, “There was a lot to take in, but I’ll be happy if our students come away from these assemblies with two thoughts. One: that we care desperately about them, and two: that a person can’t experiment with heroin and other opioids; if one dose isn’t fatal, it can ruin your life and destroy your family.”

The underclassmen will undergo the same program on April 12.


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