Posted Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

At a time when more youth than ever are experimenting with alcohol or drugs, nearly 350 young people and families came instead for an evening of natural highs at Mennen Arena in Morris Township.

The event was sponsored by the Morris County Partners in Substance Abuse Prevention as part of the group’s Natural High Initiative it began four years ago.

Steve Nebesni, Morris County Municipal Alliance Coordinator, said the event was designed to show young people that they can achieve highs naturally, without the aid of drugs or alcohol, by engaging in fun, uplifting activities such as ice skating with friends and family or a family movie or game night at home.

Morris County Freeholder John Murphy, freeholder liaison to the Morris County Department of Human Services, said the response to the March 24 natural high skating event was overwhelming.

“We are so pleased that so many families came out and enjoyed themselves together,” Murphy said. “Here in Morris County, we want to raise awareness that families and communities can work together to help to empower our youth to achieve natural highs and encourage healthy choices as opposed to using alcohol or other substances.”

The Natural High event also featured Dr. Matt Bellace, a motivational speaker and stand-up comedian, who wrote the book “A Better High.”

“I’m pleased to return to Morris County and see the natural high concept that I have written and spoken about so passionately here in action,” Bellace said.

The family skating night was supported by the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders and was made possible through the leadership of the county’s Department of Human Services, spearheaded by the Division of Behavioral Health and Youth Services.

Other collaborators in the Morris County Partners in Substance Abuse Prevention include Morris County Prevention Is Key, the Morris County Park Commission and the United Way of Morris County.

The Morris County Partners in Substance Abuse Prevention is composed of Municipal Alliances, law enforcement, human services providers, schools and community organizations. The group is committed to strengthening communities and empowering youth and defines a natural high as an excited or elevated state brought on by a non-drug related life event.

The coalition was formed after a community forum was held in August 2006 in response to the Operation Painkiller arrests and the rash of overdose deaths in the county.

The thrust of the group’s efforts is to address substance abuse issues from a strength-based perspective, focusing on how to build resiliency in our youth and improve the health and well-being of our communities through advocacy and education.

“We feel passionately about the need to bring the community together to strengthen youth and develop their natural assets,” Laurie Becker, director of the Division of Behavioral Health and Youth Services said. “The Natural High event is just one way we partner each year to do just that.”

For more information about the Natural High Initiative, contact the Morris County Division of Behavioral Health and Youth Services at 973-285-6860.