To help combat New Jersey's opiate epidemic, more than 2,000 volunteers will be in each of the state's 21 counties this Thursday to raise awareness about the link between prescription painkillers and heroin abuse rates.

FILE - This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo, shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

The "Knock Out Opiate Abuse" initiative will include parents who have lost children, community leaders, police chiefs, legislators and two former governors, according to Angelo Valente, executive director of Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

"They'll be visiting doctors and dentists' offices throughout the state, sharing the CDC guidelines about safe prescribing," said Valente.

Volunteers also will be canvassing neighborhoods and encouraging families to talk with their physicians before an opiate is prescribed for their child.

"In some cases, that abuse begins at the prescription pad," Valente said. "We need to make sure that we are looking at alternatives to opiates. In some examples, opiates are not necessary and I think that's what these conversations will prove," he added.

Valente pointed out that for many years the perception of the medical community and public at large was that these painkillers were safe and didn't provide any potential for addiction.

"We have learned over the last 10 years through research that the complete opposite is true, and sometimes the benefits don't outweigh the risks of addiction that come along in some individuals that are using these drugs," said Valente.

Anyone interested in volunteering for "Knock Out Opiate Abuse Day" on Thursday can sign up at drugfreenj.com.

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