Justin Wolfe, a 2009 graduate of Eastern Regional High School, was 21 years old and attending Temple University when lost his life to a heroin overdose on Dec. 19, 2012.
Although Justin didn’t live to see what would have been his 25th birthday this year on June 11, the fight against drug addiction will carry on in his name with a special birthday benefit on June 9 to honor Justin’s memory and to raise money for the “Right In Our Backyard” addiction awareness program.
The program was developed between Gregg Wolfe, Justin’s father, and Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Southern New Jersey to help increase drug addiction awareness and prevent future instances of drug addiction and addiction-related deaths.
Through the program, Wolfe joins drug counselors, recovering addicts, police officers and another area parent who lost a child to drug addiction to present panel discussions to groups of parents and their teenagers.
While visiting synagogues, schools and churches, Wolfe and the others work to provide information to parents and their children on the effects of addiction, ways to seek help, tools to help prevent addiction, safe drug disposal methods and even ways to begin discussions if a parent suspects signs of drug addiction in their child.
“Many people are in denial and don’t realize or don’t know, as I did not, the demons of addiction and opiate and heroin abuse that is rampant and has become an epidemic in our community,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe notes that many parents in the area think drug addiction is limited to cities such as Camden, when in reality the epidemic has moved to suburban areas, hence the Right in Our Backyard name of the program.
Although Wolfe was aware his son had been abusing prescription pills before his death, he was unaware Justin’s addiction had moved to heroin. Justin was still on Wolfe’s insurance at the time, but when Wolfe tried to learn more information from his son’s doctors, he was rebuffed due to patient privacy laws, as Justin was older than 18.
The situation has since led Wolfe to also become an advocate for changing patient privacy laws, even testifying before Congress to ask that doctors and other health-care providers be allowed to provide information regarding drug addiction with the parents of addicts through the age of 26.
Wolfe asks any parents or members of the community looking to help prevent drug addiction to join him at Justin’s birthday benefit on Thursday, June 9, at the Mansion on Main Street in Voorhees. The event will start at 5:30 p.m. with tickets set at $40. All money raised will go directly toward funding the Right in Our Backyard program and its work.
“Even though people say they don’t have addiction in their family, it can affect anybody,” Wolfe said.
As such, Wolfe said all parents should learn more about the dangers of addiction and the treatments available, and he directs those interested in learning more to his website, www.justinforjustice.org, and to the JFCS’ website at www.jfcssnj.org.
“It’s important for parents to research drug abuse, look it up, learn about it and use that information, because there’s nothing worse than losing a child,” Wolfe said.
Those interested can visit www.justinforjustice.org to get tickets for the June 9 birthday benefit or provide donations.