NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers University students and other community members took a moment to remember those who lost their lives due to to addiction at a candlelight vigil on Tuesday October 21, held on the steps of Brower Commons on College Avenue.

The vigil brought together friends and family of those who have died from overdose, to remember their lives and bring awareness to drug abuse and addiction.

New Brunswick Today has previously reported on the response to the growing epidemic of addiction to pain pills and heroin in New Jersey.  According to advocates, more people die from heroine overdoeses in New Jersey than die in gun violence or car crashes.

“Addiction can no longer be a stigma. We have to make it a common coversation,” said head organizer Francine Glaser. 

Glaser, Rutgers senior at the School of Arts and Sciences and Douglass Residential College, organized the vigil as a part of her social action project for the Institute for Women’s Leadership (IWL) Scholar Program at Rutgers University.

The IWL Scholarship Program is a “two-year selective, interdisciplinary certificate program that prepares Rutgers undergraduate women to be informed, innovative, and socially responsible leaders,” according to their website.

The Rutgers Health Outreach Prevention and Education (HOPE) office also played a significant role in organizing the event. Glaser gives special thanks to Liz Amaya-Fernandez from H.O.P.E., Frank Greenagel Jr. from the Center for Alcohol Studies, and advocate Patty DiRenzo.

HOPE is “an active learning, student centered unit within Rutgers Health Services. HOPE has an integrated academic and student life approach comprised of peer education, curriculum infusion, information development, outreach, and training related to health and wellness,” according to their website.

The vigil began with Glaser reading a list of names of loved ones that have passed from addiction as their pictures played on a slideshow behind her.

New Jersey senator, Senator Vitale delivered a speech on addiction and working to help those in recovery.

Vitale has sponsored several bills addressing addiction and drugs abuse.

A recent Rutgers graduate named James shared his personal story of drug abuse during his undergraduate career at Rutgers, telling accounts of familial issues, his overdose, and his recovery.

James said that living in the recovery housing is what saved his life.

Rutgers University was the first university in the nation to provide housing for students who are recovering from substance abuse.

Frank Greenagel, an adjunct professor at the Rutgers School of Social Work and Executive Director of College Recovery, LLC, gave a speech about his experience working with drug abuse.

“My friend died from cocaine and alcohol use. He drowned in his own vomit. The person who was with him didn’t call the police for 3 hours,” stated Greenagel.

“In 2009, 10% of kids that I worked with had a problem with opiates. In 2010, 25% of kids had a problem with opiates. In 2011, 50 % of kids had a problem with opiates,” Greenangel continued.

Ruth Ann, mother of a son who passed away from an overdose 18 months ago, shared her personal story with New Brunswick Today.

“My son passed away 18 months ago from an overdose of morphine pills, with pneumonia. He was in the hospital for 3 and a half weeks on life support. He was getting better and better and better as the days went on,” Ruth Ann said.

“I was really proud that he was going to get better. I felt it. Unfortnately the doctor took him off all medicines for about a week, and he did pass away. So, I decided to help people more than I ever did.”

Ruth Ann is founder of R.O.B.E.R.T.S., an organization that raises awareness about addiction. She named it after her deceased son, Robert.

R.O.B.E.R.T.S, an acronym that stands for “Remembering our beloved, encouraging recovery to survive”, was made by Roberts older brother Jessie.

Ron, a recovering substance abuser from Middletown, Ohio, also shared his story. 

“I’m a recovery IV meth addict, attempted suicide survivior. While using IV drugs, I contracted full blown AIDS and Hep C,” said Ron.

“Now I work very hard to raise awareness about needle exchange and the disesases that are transmitted through needle exchange.”

Ron is the founder of Celebrating Restoration, an organization who’s mission is to collaborate with community leaders and groups to provide resources and education on drugs, alcohol, addcition, and suicide. 

Randy Thompson, founder of Help Not Handcuffs, was at the vigil, spreading the message of helping drugs users rather than incarcerating them for using.  They hope to decriminalize the use of illegal drugs.

“The campaign seeks to focus the states’ limited resources on recovery and treatment supports for those who want and need it rather than consuing resources by arresting people for petty possession/drug use,” said Thompson.

“So long as we make arrest the priority when addressing the public health issue of substance use, then that is where the funds will go instead of towards helping affected people,” stated Thompson.

Part two of the social action project, Incognito Live: Sensations of Addiction, happened on Wednesday, October 29 in the Rutgers Student Center.

The event included three speakers who told their stories of addiction in a room without light, symbolizing the stigmas that are associated with individuals suffering from addiction and the fact that addiction does not have a particular face or look to it, it can happen to anyone.

For more information on drug use and abuse, visit the following resources: