News & Events

Don’t Get Hooked on Drugs NJ Family Fishing Tournament

The Don’t Get Hooked on Drugs NJ Family Fishing Tournament runs through July 28.

This online fishing tournament isn’t about the size of the fish. It’s about encouraging families to head outdoors and bond over a fun-filled day of fishing. It’s the perfect opportunity to open up the lines of communication to help keep them drug free.

Research shows that parents who often communicate with their children significantly decrease their chances of abusing substances. It is important for parents and guardians to spend time quality time with their children, especially during the summertime when kids have more time on their hands and could potentially get into trouble.


The competition will take place from July 19-28 and requires no entrance fee. To enter, take a photo of your family enjoying a fishing trip and post it on our Facebook (Drug-FreeNJ), Instagram (@DrugFreeNJ), or Twitter (@DrugFreeNJ) pages with the hashtag #DrugFreeNJ. The picture must include the youth participant and a parent or guardian. Eligible candidates must be 18 years old or younger, New Jersey residents, and be accompanied by a parent or guardian while fishing anywhere in New Jersey. The winners are picked randomly.

All entries must be submitted no later than July 28. A total of $500 will be awarded to five randomly selected submissions on August 5.

To learn more, please visit

Unity Charter School of Morristown Joins Stigma-Free Initiative

K-8 School Formally Endorses Countywide Effort to End Stigma Related to Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders

The Unity Charter School in Morristown, a tuition-free public elementary school (grades K-8), today (June 12) formally joined the countywide Stigma-Free effort in Morris County to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders.

Unity students and teachers hold up a banner with the phrase Unity Proud to Be Stigma-Free

At a special event at the school, students from all grades at Unity Charter signed a “Stigma-Free” banner and took the Stigma-Free pledge (

Unity Charter joins the Montville, Chester, Hanover Township and Hanover Park Regional schools districts previously as educational members of the Stigma-Free initiative in Morris County.

Unity students sign the Stigma-Free banner

That Stigma-Free movement also includes 35 Morris County towns, law enforcement, nonprofit agencies, hospitals, and faith-based groups in the Stigma-Free initiative.

“To support the learning of all students, we work diligently to create a nurturing learning environment. To do so we focus on developing the whole child, which includes their social and emotional well-being,’’ said Unity Charter Executive Director Connie Sanchez.

“Respecting people for who they are without attaching labels is a non-negotiable, when working with our students and team members,’’ Sanchez added.

The three-year-old grass roots Stigma-Free movement recognizes the high prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders in our communities. It promotes re-education and understanding that can lead to treatment and recovery – minus the stigma associated with these illnesses.

Leaders of this initiative from across the county are now working with school districts and faith-based groups to become active participants, hosting a variety of programs, such as the upcoming “Breaking Stigma: Building a Strong Healthy Community’’ arts and music festival set for June 22 on the Morristown Green.

As part of the countywide initiative, residents are urged to take the Stigma Free Pledge:

Two Unity boys sign the Stigma-Free banner

The Morris County Board of Freeholders in 2016 passed a resolution (joining several towns that had initiated the movement), designating Morris County as a Stigma-Free County and asked all of the county’s towns to consider enrolling.

“We are pleased that the Unity Charter School has formally joined the Stigma-Free initiative,’’ said Morris County Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo, the county governing board’s Stigma-Free liaison.  “They already have been active as leaders in the Stigma-Free effort, and we look forward to their continuing participation and leadership.’’

The educational philosophy at the Unity Charter School is to offer learning that spans beyond textbooks and which prepares students to face real-world challenges. The goal is to foster a culture of creativity, innovation and change that inspires a future generation of thinkers and doers.

Barbara Smith, a Unity Charter School counselor, in April briefed the school staff on the countywide Stigma-Free initiative. Subsequently, a task force was created with the School Climate Team and students from SAFE (Students Advocating For Equality) to plan to join the initiative.

During class meetings in May, Stigma-Free student ambassadors met with all students to share the importance of becoming a “Stigma Free School.’’ Unity Charter’s entire student population, K-8, participated in a variety of age appropriate activities and discussion in preparation for Tuesday’s signing of the Stigma Free resolution.

To learn more about Unity Charter School, visit:

For information on the disease of mental illness, visit and for information on NAMI’s national Stigma Free effort, visit:

Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace which results from the judgment by others. When individuals are labeled by their illness, they experience judgment and prejudice. Stigma brings experiences and feelings of shame, embarrassment, distress, hopelessness and reluctance to seek or accept help.

New Jersey Law Enforcement Community Unites to Discuss Opioid Epidemic

From The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey:

On Thursday in Atlantic City, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey held the New Jersey Law Enforcement Training: On the Front Lines of the Opioid Epidemic conference, the first ever statewide law enforcement event to unite federal, state, county and local law enforcement officials to discuss the opioid epidemic ravaging the state.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who delivered the keynote address, announced for the first time publicly that his office has filed a lawsuit against eight members of the Sackler family, founders of oxycontin manufacturer Purdue Pharma. He also outlined the progress being made in the fight against the opioid epidemic.

Read the full article.

Bill expanding access to opioid addiction treatment passes Assembly

From NJBiz:

Assembly Democrats Louis Greenwald, John Armato and Valerie Vainieri Huttle sponsored legislation to more quickly provide critical opioid addiction treatment for patients covered under Medicaid by removing prior authorization requirements.

The measure was approved on Thursday by the full Assembly, in a 76-0 vote.

The bill, Assembly Bill 4744, would require the Department of Human Services to ensure that provisions of benefits for medication-assisted treatment, to eligible persons under the Medicaid program or those who receive services funded through the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, be provided without the imposition of any prior authorization requirements or other prospective utilization management requirements.

Read the full article on

Walgreens to train for pharmacy staff in Mental Health First Aid

From Modern Healthcare:

Walgreens Boots Alliance launched a training program for pharmacists to learn how to better identify warning signs of mental health and substance use problems in their patients and help them during crisis situations.

The retailer partnered with the American Pharmacists Association and the National Council for Behavioral Health to create an online version of the Mental Health First Aid program, which was developed in 2001 in Australia to provide individuals who weren’t clinicians with strategies to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

…The Walgreens partnership is the first collaboration of its kind with one of the country’s giant retail pharmacy chains.

Read the full article at Modern Healthcare.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Alexa Wyszkowski

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by Alexa Wyszkowski:

Alexa holds up a sign that says Despite my diagnosis, I am enough.
Alexa Wyszkowski is more than her diagnosis.

I have allergies. I have asthma. I have anxiety.

These were all the reasons why I used to tell myself that I could not do things, was undeserving of things and could not achieve things. These were the reasons I told myself I was not capable of having great friendships and relationships. The reasons why I felt I could never be enough even when I gave my all.

In high school, something changed as I became more and more involved in my school community. I became someone who was not as defined by their allergies, asthma, and anxiety. Instead, I was defined by how much I cared and dedicated my time to the school clubs and activities.

By my senior year, I had joined as many clubs and organizations as I could and balanced all my time so I could actively participate in as many activities as possible. I loved meeting new people and finding those special people who attended the club meetings and events not just for their resume, but because they wanted to be part of something greater than themselves. Being a part of a club, a team, an organization, an event, an activity involves this feeling of belonging and having the ability to make a difference. I loved being able to help people and show them how they too could help others.

I had good grades, was involved in everything I could be in, was accepted to every college I applied to and even received some awards and recognition for all my work in these clubs and activities. Except all of this was not enough.

I had an opportunity to go to college for free. And yet I couldn’t go to college for free. I had missed the class rank requirement that I needed by less than one percent. I was not enough.

I went into college as a hospitality major because I thought that was the only way to continue on my journey to help others. I thought that the place I started working at in high school was going to be my forever job. And this was all so closed minded of me. If only I had an open mind then maybe I would have made different and better choices, but then I would probably not be where I am today.

Early into the start of college I entered my first relationship and told myself it was okay if they never were able to understand me. I thought that even if they weren’t understanding of my allergies, asthma, and anxiety it would still be okay. I didn’t think I should expect them to understand or want to learn to understand. For some reason, I thought when I gave everything and it wasn’t enough for them that I should just keep giving.

I did this with the first job that I thought was my dream job. I did this with my first relationship.

Until the winter came and I remember for the first time feeling completely alone and empty. I ignored it and continued giving as much as I could. I dived into this mindset to show my relationship and my job that I could be more than my allergies, asthma, anxiety and try to prove to them that I could be enough until there was no room for anything else in my life. I didn’t have time for myself, I didn’t have time for my other friends, I didn’t have time to breathe. I thought I had to change the perspective of my workplace and my partner. That the role I was given was to change both of them, to make them understand.

I cannot change people. I cannot change places. I cannot change things. I cannot change the past. I cannot change fate. I cannot change the fact that I have allergies, asthma, and anxiety. All I can do is work on changing myself, becoming a part of something greater than myself and offering my light even in the darkest moments. Even as a leader I cannot say that I have ever been the only person that contributed to something changing. For something to change it takes many people working together who share the desire to create something more. I can share this passion and give it to others, but I cannot force it. I cannot change people. People can only change themselves and to do that, they have to want to change.

I want to change myself. I started high school as this person who was shy and insecure and did not believe in herself. By the end of high school, I started to become more confident in who I was and what I was meant to do. However in addition to my allergies, asthma, and anxiety, I let not getting free college, the job I had and the relationship I was in continue to tell me that I was not enough. That I could never be enough.

It took me a year and a half into college to realize that what I thought I was supposed to do with my life was not at all what I should have been doing. And this time it was not because I thought I was not enough. It was because I realized I was more than enough all along.

For as long as I can remember I have loved four things: reading, writing, teaching, and giving. And I left high school and entered college thinking that I was not enough to be able to study and have a career in something that involved all of those things. So to start I chose to study hospitality and plan my career around it because I thought I would just help and give in that way.

What I didn’t realize was that there are so many other ways of being able to help and give by also teaching and involving reading and writing. That I am capable to do things that I thought I wouldn’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t be able to do.

There will always be people and places who will tell me that I’m never enough. That I should give up what I have and who I am because it is not enough for them. As much as I used to give importance to making everyone and everything better and happy, I no longer feel the constant need to do so. I just want to be myself with my allergies, asthma, anxiety and all my past people, places and experiences, and still be able to make positive connections with others without feeling that I am not enough. I am enough and thinking that I was never enough is something I am trying to leave in the past.



The Community Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Morris partnered with Life Center Stage to create an opioid awareness campaign #StopThePain, where the power of personal stories, photography and videos are used to bring light to how the opioid epidemic affects real people. has been created as a platform for the community to understand others’ lived experience, find resources and, importantly, submit their own stories.

It is our vision that by creating this campaign we are able to impact the community at-large by inspiring hope, educating, and destroying stigma. With your help we can make this happen!

The #StopThePain initiative started with opioid awareness video spots airing in Morris County movie theaters and on online video platforms. These awareness videos featured stories from people with lived experience with the opioid epidemic.

Each month, features real stories from community members sharing their experience with opioids, substance use disorder, recovery, and stigma, as well as real-life solutions:

    • Michael Cavallo, musician, public speaker and winner of the 2018 Knock Out Opioid Abuse Songwriter’s Contest was among one of our first participants. His story sheds light on how opioids can affect anyone, on the struggles of getting into and staying in treatment as well as hope that recovery is possible.
      • “It’s not just about recovery. It is about dealing with personal relationships, getting a job and showing up for it. Learning how to budget your finances and food shopping when you have little money. Between my social workers, the Milestone House and CARES in Rockaway, I was surrounded by positive people that taught me how to show up for life.” 
    • Loren O’Donnell, a dad who lost his 20-year-old daughter Molly to the opioid epidemic, shared his story. For the past few years, Loren has been inspiring others through his prevention and recovery outreach, sharing his daughter’s poetry about her addiction as well as his experience and original songs.
      •  “I unleashed repressed feelings, I needed that. Thank you. I am forever grateful.” 
    • We are currently featuring Kelly LaBar, a person in long-term recovery since January 2003. Kelly does wonderful work in the recovery field as a CPRS and Project Coordinator for the Opiate Overdose Prevention Program at CARES. She is also an Ammon Foundation Empowerment Coach.
      • “When I started my recovery journey it was not an epidemic. I was one of a handful of young people seeking treatment. Now we lose over 100 people a day to an overdose and there are more young people struggling and seeking treatment. We have more options to help people find recovery, more advocates, more people recovering out loud, more treatment and recovery support for individuals and family members, more legislation. There is still much more work to be done but we are mobilizing and moving forward.”

The response to this campaign has been great, and we would like to see it keep growing to become something even bigger. We know that in sharing our stories, we engage people at every level – not just in their minds but also through their emotions, educating through personal experience. By focusing on our collective experiences and what has supported those affected by this crisis, we put everyone in a stronger position to undermine stigmatizing belief systems and lay out new possibilities for social change

To fight this epidemic it is going to take all of us! With your help, we can grow this initiative even further and #StopThePain.

Ways that you can get involved:

Stigma Free Third Anniversary – Videos of Event

On April 24, the Morris County Board of Freeholders this week recognized the third anniversary of the county’s Stigma-Free Initiative and urged all of the county’s 39 towns, plus school districts, businesses, law enforcement, and religious and nonprofit organizations to join the countywide effort to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders. Here are some videos from the event:

Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo

Erica Valvano, of Hope One

Wendy Sefcik, of Remembering T.J.

CCM Students Behind “Despite My Diagnosis” – Alexa Wyszkowski of Rockaway, Raven Resch of Belvidere, and Marco Mirlas of Roxbury

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Faculty Advisor Russ Crespolini

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by CCM Faculty Advisor Russ Crespolini:

Russ CrespoliniTwo decades ago I underwent surgery to repair two ruptured discs at the base of my spine that had robbed me of motor control in my left leg and caused me considerable pain for almost six  months.

At the time I was a junior and an undergraduate and ended up missing a large portion of the academic year. I had just started seriously dating someone and I did not know whether this new relationship could weather the ups and downs of this serious physical infirmity. Epidural and steroid injections, limited mobility and chronic pain had become a steady part of my life. I wish I could tell you that the surgery fixed everything and twenty years later as adjunct professor and faculty advisor to the Youngtown Edition I face each day pain-free.

But I would be lying.

Because it was after my surgery I was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. The doctor’s told me that this narrowing of my spinal canal was something I was born with and eventually it the passage would narrow enough to constrain the nerves and put me in a wheelchair.

This was going to be exacerbated by the scar tissue left over by my surgery. Less space in the canal for the nerves to move freely, after all. I was also going to deal with varying levels of pain for the rest of my life. I wish I could tell you that I began exercising and dieting in earnest and did everything I could better my odds.

That would also be a lie.

After surgery, I went back to campus, cane in hand and got special permission to take 25 credits a semester to graduate on time and continue on my path to graduate school. I also ate my way to 400 pounds and dealt with the grinding of chronic pain with prescription anti-inflammatory and pain medication.

Dealing with chronic pain is something that so many people experience but never talk about. The way it may take you ten minutes to get out of bed in the morning when others take ten seconds.  The way it gnaws at your attention span when you are trying to focus on work or school. The way the pain activates your adrenal gland and wears you out. Chronic pain makes you so very very tired. It also makes you jealous. You are jealous of the people around you who aren’t suffering as you do. Not because you would wish this on them, but because they take for granted what they have. That physical normalcy you have been denied.

I wrote this, not because this is a pity party for me, but because I was so inspired and humbled by the previous Despite My Diagnosis columns written by brave authors who shared their stories with Youngtown.

And because I know that so many people deal with varying levels of chronic pain and choose to suffer in silence or be isolated because they are afraid they might snap or be quick-tempered with someone. But chronic pain can also do something unexpectedly beautiful.

It can make you appreciate what you do have.

On the days when your pain is more manageable, you appreciate being able to walk freely, to transition from a seated position to standing without wincing. You appreciate being able to mow your lawn, or walk through a store or take a day trip to the beach. You appreciate the friends and family who love you and care about you and support you. And that builds a reserve of strength you can draw on in your darker days.

But you have to do your part. I did change my lifestyle. I exercise daily to keep myself mobile (it takes a lot of work to look this mediocre) and I did lose over 100 pounds I needed to lose. I no longer take prescription medication for pain management. I take the occasional Aleve.

And I also sought counseling and help.

So for those of you out there with chronic pain, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Do not suffer in silence. Don’t be afraid to explain to people what is happening with you and ask for their patience and support. It is ok to have bad days. It is ok to feel depressed and to feel your lot in life is unfair. It is not ok to let those feelings overwhelm you. Lean on those relationships that provide you comfort.

I made it because I had people who believed in me. I had an undergraduate advisor who put herself out there for me and supported me and guided me and set the template for how I treat my own students. I still text her daily. I had family and friends who were there when I woke up in the hospital and continued to be a presence in my daily life. Those relationships that are meant to be will strengthen. That girl I was in the new relationship with 20 years ago when I had my surgery is my wife of 13 years.

For those of you who know someone with chronic pain, do your best to be patient. Celebrate the days they feel well and listen to them when they are feeling down. I still have my bad days, when the pain and weakness creeps down my leg. Usually when the weather changes.

So despite my diagnosis, I am a journalist, father, husband, educator, advisor, improv-artist, video-game enthusiast, Union President, and adjunct professor. But because of my diagnosis, I appreciate, and enjoy, those opportunities more than I will ever be able to express.

Editor’s note: Russ Crespolini is a working journalist and adjunct professor at County College of Morris and The College of Saint Elizabeth where he advises both campus newspapers. He wrote this column in the hopes other faculty, staff and administrators would share their story.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Andres Ortiz

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by Andres Ortiz:

Andres Ortiz holds a sign that says, Despite my Diagnosis, autism success.
Andres Ortiz

My name is Andres Ortiz and I have high functioning autism, which means I think differently and often have trouble understanding social cues and knowing how to communicate with others. My autism hasn’t stopped me from being a talented drummer and I’ve been playing in bands for about 14 years. Sometimes it’s been easiest to make friends through my love of music.

I started going to different schools when I was three. When I was younger, I felt that nobody understood me and that caused me to act out sometimes. Once I went to the Newmark School in Scotch Plains, NJ and then Montgomery Academy in Basking Ridge, NJ everything got easier because people there understood how I thought and learn.

In high school, I had ups and downs because I was also diagnosed with Lyme Disease. I have trouble staying awake and my memory is bad sometimes but I continue to try my very best. It’s interesting that my brain always remembers how to play music and facts about it, but I can’t read it. People with autism often know a whole lot about one topic and mine is music.

I came to CCM through the College Steps Program because I wanted to be more independent and I am proud to say I am doing well in all my classes. However, sometimes I still struggle with sleeping, remembering important due dates and details, asking for help at the right time, and communicating with others. Now I have peer mentors, who are also CCM students through College Steps, who help me with these problems as well as note-taking, studying, independent living and social skills, and budgeting. All College Steps students, mentors, and our Program Coordinator, Nancy Tichenor, meet to work on life, employment and community skills to help us with college and life after we leave.

I have made friends in my classes and through my mentors through College Steps and of course, I enjoy the other students in the program. We can often be found laughing together a lot. On May 6, we’re having a big charity event for The Seeing Eye and we’re trying to raise approximately $90.00 because The Seeing Eye is celebrating its 90 birthday. We hope it will be a great success. Come have a piece of pizza and support our fundraiser. And say, “Hi.” Maybe you’ll want to be a mentor next year. College Steps has on campus, flexible, paid positions for second-semester students interested in becoming a mentor. If you are interested in applying to become a mentor, email!