By Donald Wittkowski

A beach town dotted with multimillion-dollar oceanfront homes, trendy restaurants and yacht clubs would hardly seem to be the setting for concerns about heroin addiction.

But Sea Isle City’s upscale atmosphere and family-friendly reputation do not make it immune to the deadly drug crisis sweeping the nation, Mayor Leonard Desiderio said.

Underscoring the perils of drug addiction, Sea Isle will hold two public forums on Thursday, headed by nationally recognized speaker John Kriger, to warn senior citizens and parents about heroin abuse in the local community.

“Heroin knows no boundaries. Heroin affects the very wealthy and affects those not so wealthy,” Desiderio said during a press conference Tuesday to encourage the public to attend the forums.

“This is something we need to fight together,” the mayor continued. “We need to fight the epidemic because it is continuing to kill people. It is harmful.”

Titled “Sea Isle City Fights Heroin … What You Need to Know,” the two forums will be divided into one presentation for senior citizens and another for parents. Both will take place Thursday at the former Sea Isle City Public School at 4501 Park Road. People who are not residents of Sea Isle are also encouraged to attend the forums, which are free to the public.

“I can’t overemphasize, everyone should take the opportunity to come to this very, very important presentation,” Desiderio said.

He added that the forums will reveal some “shocking” information about drug addiction.

The first presentation, called “What Grandparents Need to Know,” begins at 1:30 p.m. with a complimentary luncheon. At 2 p.m., a 90-minute session will focus on the importance of senior citizens securing their prescription medications in the home to prevent them from being stolen by their grandchildren or other people.

Sea Isle City Board of Education President Dan Tumolo, at podium, said children generally become aware of drugs as early as the seventh grade.
Sea Isle City Board of Education President Dan Tumolo, at podium, said children generally become aware of drugs as early as the seventh grade.

At 6 p.m., another 90-minute presentation, titled “What Kids Know and You Don’t,” will be held for adults and parents to help them recognize high-risk behavior and opioid abuse by their children and teenagers.

“We want to win over these people who have to recognize the drug problem,” said Dan Tumolo, president of the Sea Isle City Board of Education.

Tumolo, among a group of community leaders, addiction experts and law enforcement officials who joined the mayor at the press conference, said surveys have shown that children generally become aware of drugs as early as the seventh grade.

Sea Isle City Police Chief Tom D’Intino characterized the town’s drug problem as relatively small, but pointed out that heroin addiction affects every community in Cape May County.

D’Intino stressed that heroin abuse cuts through all demographic groups and that no one in Sea Isle should underestimate the danger.

“It knows no boundaries,” D’Intino said, echoing a theme by Desiderio. “It’s not age-specific. It’s not gender-specific. Once you get hooked on it, it’s deadly.”

Joining a trend among law enforcement agencies nationwide, Sea Isle’s police officers now carry Narcan, an antidote for drug overdose. D’Intino said the city’s police officers have used Narcan six times to save overdose victims.

Desiderio disclosed during the press conference that over the summer he witnessed first hand an overdose victim being revived with Narcan. At first, he thought the woman had died.

“This Narcan brought the person back,” he said.

Now, Desiderio and other government and civic leaders are hoping to mount an even greater effort to combat heroin addiction, using Thursday’s drug forums as a platform for more community involvement.

“We greatly appreciate people taking the time to join us as we explore these very serious topics, because these problems are happening across our country and in our own back yards,” Desiderio said.