By Jenna O’Donnell |OCEANPORT – A growing effort to combat opioid addiction in the local community began when the epidemic hit close to home.Betsy Schuff, one of the Oceanport moms who founded the Drug Education Initiative (DEI) action committee, recalled the shock of losing a dear friend’s son to a drug overdose three years ago.“I knew there was an epidemic,” Schuff said. “But I never really believed that it was right here in our town or that it could happen to someone I loved. I soon learned that other parents were much like me and didn’t understand how severe the issue really is and how present it is in our community.”Schuff and other like-minded parents, hoping to bring more education and awareness to the community and to their schools, created DEI and, on Aug. 10, hosted their first forum to discuss the opioid epidemic and learn how addiction can take hold. Representatives from Monmouth Medical Center and the Tigger House Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to reducing death from heroin and opiate addiction, attended the event to share stories, statistics and tips for the community.Christian Peter, a board member at the Tigger House Foundation and an NFL veteran of the New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears, described his own battle with drug and alcohol addiction, his road to recovery, and his efforts to help others follow a similar path through his work with Tigger House.“What we do is very simple,” Peter said. “We help kids – and people – who are struggling with addiction.”That addiction can start right at home with a bottle of leftover Vicodin or Percocet in the parent’s medicine cabinet, said Victor Almeida, D.O., chairman of Emergency Medicine at Monmouth Medical Center. Once the prescription bottles run out, he noted, kids might look to get cheaper drugs – like heroin – on the streets.“If you are opiate naïve, in a period of a few days you can become addicted,” Almeida said, noting that the potency of local heroin makes it especially dangerous. “The heroin that we have in New Jersey is some of the purest in the world.”A partnership between Monmouth Medical Center and Tigger House seeks to treat patients with addiction problems in the emergency room and move them into recovery programs with recovery specialists who have experienced addiction for themselves and are able to “walk the walk” and better relate to the struggle of addiction.“It helps if you can say ‘I know where you are. I’ve been there, too,’” Peter said.Eric Carney (left), COO of Monmouth Medical Center; Victor Almeida, D.O., chairman of emer- gency medicine at Monmouth Medical Center; Janet W. Tucci, mayor of West Long Branch; Serena DiMaso, Monmouth County Freeholder; and Christian Peter, board member of The Tigger House Foundation attended the Drug Education Initiative forum in Oceanport, which focused on opioid addiction and abuse.As drug and opioid-related deaths continue to rise across the country, in New Jersey, and in Monmouth County, parents were urged to talk frankly to their kids about drug addiction and take notice of any sudden changes in their social circles, sleep, grades or cleanliness.“This disease does not discriminate,” Peter said. “It’s out there in our communities affecting our children and we’ve got to do something about it.”This article was first published in the Aug. 17-24, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.