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Partnership for a Drug-Free NJ Conference Tackles Opioid Misuse in Youth Sports

MILLBURN, NJ — The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ), along with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and the Opioid Education Foundation of America, hosted the "Keeping New Jersey Youth Athletes Safe" conference at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City on Friday. The event gathered coaches, athletic directors, teachers, school nurses, and others involved in youth sports to discuss the link between athletics and opioid misuse.

"It's essential to educate those involved in youth sports about the potential for opioid misuse among student-athletes," said Angelo Valente, Executive Director of PDFNJ. "The purpose of this conference is to safeguard the well-being of our young athletes and equip adults with the knowledge to make a difference."

The conference provided an in-depth understanding of the opioid crisis and its impact on athletes from elementary to college age, exploring alternative pain treatments and effective prevention strategies for opioid misuse among student-athletes. Ray Lucas, a former star quarterback for Rutgers who had an eight-year career in the NFL, shared his journey through opioid misuse and recovery, underscoring the critical need for awareness in managing sports-related injuries and pain. Also featured at the event was Dr. Andrew Kolodny, Medical Director of Opioid Policy Research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. Kolodny, also the executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, discussed the opioid epidemic that is impacting families and communities across the country.

“The Opioid Education Foundation is dedicated to educating about the risks of opioids and alternatives that exist for pain and injuries,” said Elaine Pozycki, founder of the Opioid Education Foundation of America. “I lost my son Steven to an overdose after he became addicted to the pain medicine he was prescribed for a sports injury in college - and I applaud the coaches, athletic trainers, teachers and parents who came out to learn about how they can protect the young athletes in their lives. My hope is that they look to alternatives once they understand the dangers of opioids.”

The conference also featured a panel including Dr. Michael Goione of Navesink Chiropractic Center, a team chiropractor for Monmouth University and Georgian Court University; Laurie Smith, an assistant director at Acenda Integrated Health; and Christina Emrich, an athletic trainer and assistant athletic director at Red Bank Regional High School. Each offered a wealth of experience and expertise in the field.

 "This conference has significantly contributed to the ongoing efforts to combat the opioid epidemic within youth athletics in New Jersey, marking a pivotal moment in our continued commitment to keeping our young athletes safe and informed,” Valente said

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