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This Nurse's Brilliant Plan Could Solve Bergen County's Opioid Epidemic

Nancy Labov of Old Tappan launched the Alumni In Recovery program, which sends recovering addicts back into their local high schools and middle schools to speak to the student body. Photo Credit: Nancy Labov
By sharing their life stories, AIR’s goal is to help teens and preteens identify with the speakers feelings and emotions when they were at that same age in hopes that the students opt for more positive choices along their own paths. Photo Credit: AIR
"The students are able to see some of the alumni return as a completely different person because they are working a program of recovery. That's something that we have to do daily." Photo Credit: AIR
The nonprofit organization sends recovering addicts back into middle and high schools that they are familiar with or have graduated from.
The nonprofit organization sends recovering addicts back into middle and high schools that they are familiar with or have graduated from. Video Credit: Nancy Labov
Labov with AIR volunteers in Lodi. Photo Credit: AIR

Former Bergen County Regional Medical Center nurse Nancy Labov believes each young recovering addict has the ability to give back in a way the no one else can.

As a recovering person herself, she would know.

Nearly three decades ago, Labov decided to get sober.

And four years ago, she started Alumni In Recovery (AIR).

The nonprofit organization sends recovering addicts back into middle and high schools that they are familiar with or have graduated from.

There, they tell their stories to students who share the same lockers and walk the same halls that they once did, and may be on a similar path to one that they once were.

"There isn't anyone better who can get into the minds of our next generation than the young people familiar with the seats they sat in," said  Labov, 55 of Old Tappan.

"These are the people who can give the students words to help the students begin processing their own feelings."

By sharing their life stories, AIR’s goal is to help teens and preteens identify with the speakers feelings and emotions when they were at that same age in hopes that the students opt for more positive choices along their own paths.

Labov has always had a desire to work in addiction, but never got involved until after she became someone in recovery herself, at 26 years old.

She worked in hospitals in Massachusetts and New York City, before she began working at Bergen County Regional Medical Center in 1990.

Labov went on to become a Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (CADC) and went on to work at the Spring House for Women, on the grounds of Bergen Regional.

It was then that she began bringing young women from the Spring House into schools.

Inspired by experiences from her own recovery and by what was happening at work before her eyes, Labov founded AIR in August 2014.

"The school's staff members are able to see some of the alumni return as a completely different person because they are working a program of recovery," Labov said.

"That's something that we have to do daily."

And I remain sober for the same reason."

Labov drew up guidelines for the program, which provide the volunteers with a format, and that schools with a safe and reliable program.

AIR began in Old Tappan but has grown to districts all across Bergen County.

As a result of a presentation at a local high school, AIR began parent presentations in which bereaved parents speak to local parents in conjunction with alumni in recovery.

"It’s quite powerful to bring a recovering young person with a bereaved parent in this format," the nurse said.

"All it requires is a recovery community to want to take action," the nurse said. "And this epidemic is a call for action."

Newly released information from the state shows 99 people in Bergen County and more than 2,200 in New Jersey died from drug overdoses in 2016.

For the third consecutive year, that was an all-time high in New Jersey -- and the number continues to rise.

Labov said AIR is as helpful for students as it is for the volunteers.

"They have the ability to give back in a way that no one else can do," she said.

"It's a solution to this problem within the epidemic going on that people are trying to figure out a solution for."

AIR's mission is to end the stigma of addiction and plants seeds in the minds of youth that better choices are options in their formative years.

Labov is proof of all that is possible through recovery.

"I am of greater service to others, mostly the people who want help to get clean and sober, if I am a sober person myself," she said.

"I stayed sober to be a member of the human race helping others and being connected to others.

"And I remain sober for the same reason."

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