More than 200 people packed into the Glen Rock High School Media Center Tuesday night to listen to local officials tell about the dangers of drug and alcohol use among the teens of Glen Rock and Bergen County.
“The problem has always been here,’’ Glen Rock Police Chief Dean Ackermann told the audience gathered for the Community Forum, a joint effort by the Mayor and Council, Board of Education and Police Department. “I can tell you, it’s gotten worse.’’
At the Forum, which was a follow-up to the Community Message that was sent out to residents last month, the crowd listened raptly and heard Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal recite statistics of heroin overdose deaths and rescues in the county in 2016, and a former undercover detective talk about how heroin users often are attracted to the most dangerous heroin – heroin that can kill – because it is more powerful and therefore offers a greater high.
But the most poignant parts of the two-and-a-half hour session involved testimony from two women – one, a mother from Allendale, Gail Cole, who told the story of her son who died of an overdose, and the other a mother from Glen Rock who shared with the parents in attendance how her son, a student at Glen Rock High School who tested positive for drugs and is in rehab.
“Every single one of his friends smokes weed,’’ the Glen Rock mother said. “We’ve taken him to therapy; he’s had consequences. His dad and I are not OK with it.
“He’s six weeks in (a drug rehab program); he’s got 10 weeks to go,’’ she continued. “He’s going to smoke again.
“These kids are – they’re like we were – they’re stupid,’’ she said. “They think, ‘I’m not going to get caught.’ This is exactly what my son said. He got caught.’’
Cole, the Allendale mother, recalled how her son had been through a program to get clean that she said, in hindsight, was not long enough. She recalled him looking as though he was sober, how he had started a new job, and how they began to relax their hold on him, and trust him again. The day before he died, he asked to borrow the car, and they let him take it, knowing they had a tracker on it and thinking they would know if he went to Paterson, where he usually bought his drugs. The car went to the Garden State Plaza, she said, so they thought he was OK. When he came home, she realized he was high.
“He had his heroin delivered to Nieman Marcus,’’ she said. “Please don’t say, ‘Not my child.’ Because it’s happening all over Bergen County.’’
“This drug affects everybody,’’ said Donnie Ingrasellino, the former undercover detective. “There is nobody immune to it.’’
Several members of the audience spoke, asking questions like whether the Middle and High Schools could be doing more, perhaps communicating better, perhaps searching students’ backpacks and checking water bottles to see if they had alcohol in it. Some thought kids who play sports perhaps should be subject to mandatory drug testing.
School superintendent Paula Valenti explained that the school district is doing what it can, with random drug-sniffing dogs and keeping in contact with the police department, but she explained that because of the individuals’ rights to privacy, there are limits to what can be communicated, and searches of students can’t be conducted without probable cause. As far as drug testing athletes, Valenti said the Board of Education has discussed that, along with many other possibilities. Testing athletes, she said, “is somewhat discriminatory, because musicians do drugs… mathematicians do drugs.’’
Some audience members who spoke reminded their fellow audience members that the responsibility to monitor and influence their children’s behaviors falls on them, not the school district. And many audience members expressed gratitude for the forum, and said they hope it is only the first step in the borough trying to figure out how to battle the problem of teen drinking and drug use.
“Denial can no longer be the river that runs down the middle of Glen Rock,’’ Ackermann said.