Brigantine fights heroin epidemic with first local summit

andrewBRIGANTINE- Gineen DeMari’s nephew never greeted her without a kiss. He never said goodbye without saying “I love you.” But on Aug. 13, 2013, he died alone in the bathroom of his Absecon apartment, wrapped around the toilet, with his chin resting on the seat.

“As beautiful and talented and compassionate as he was, he was also an addict,” DeMari said of William Dolqueist, her nephew she called “Billy Boy.”

Dolqueist had battled addiction for years before his death at 27-years-old. He told his family that he would never do heroin again, because after he tried it once, it made him incredibly sick.

Six months later, he was dead from a heroin overdose. DeMari’s family, she said, has been left with “pure hell and pure heartbreak.”

DeMari has told “Billy’s Story” dozens of times. But still, in front of a crowd of 70 gathering in Brigantine’s Community Center Thursday night, she needed to take pauses to compose herself, dabbing the smudged mascara from under her eyes with a tissue.

DeMari was one of 13 speakers at Brigantine’s first Substance Abuse Summit, all telling stories of recovery, treatment, and the tragedy caused by a heroin epidemic that has taken its hold on not only Atlantic County, but the entire state.

“People don’t know how bad it is,” Det. Steven Ward, who organized the event with Lt. Robert Rubino and Chief Tim Reed said. “We get phone calls from parents who don’t know what to do.”

Two similar summits have been held previously with Join Together Atlantic County, an anti-drug coalition focused on preventing substance abuse in the county’s youth. Those summits focused on the issue county-wide, coordinator Laurie Smith said, but Brigantine’s was meant to be more a local town hall. She intends to bring the summit to every one of Atlantic County’s municipalities, in an effort to break the stigma about addiction and prevent it.

“Every municipality is having this issue,” she said. “Brigantine has the same problem that every other community has.”

Brigantine’s EMS crews began carrying naloxone, more commonly known by the brand name Narcan, in January of this year. Within the first hour they were equipped with it, they had their first save. Fire and police officials couldn’t say how many overdoses they’ve responded to this year, but did say it appears the heroin problem is getting worse all over the county.

“One is enough,” Reed said of the overdoses. “We needed to get in a room people that have answers that these family members or loved ones need.”

On Thursday, members of the community filled the trunk of a police car with unused medications they dropped off prior to the event. Join Together Atlantic County brought 50 locking medicine chests to hand out for free at the summit. Then, dozens stayed after the meeting to receive training in administering naloxone.

“It doesn’t discriminate. It affects everyone,” Andrew Simpson Jr., who grew up in Brigantine, said. He was an athlete at Holy Spirit High School, a member of the Brigantine Beach Patrol, and had been to 11 treatment centers over eight years. On Thursday, he said he had been in longterm recovery for the past two years, and now he works with various treatment facilities and after care programs in Florida and New Jersey.

“I was raised good. I don’t have any traumatic events in my background,” he said. “From outside appearances, everything was okay. But for some reason, there was always something missing inside of me. Trying to break the stigma is the number one thing.”

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