NJ man beats the odds, kicks his heroin addiction
In part three of a five-part series on New Jersey’s heroin epidemic, Vinnie, a former drug user from North Jersey, recalls how he beat the odds and is now looking forward to a bright future.
The number of heroin overdose deaths in New Jersey continues to rise. No one is sure how many addicts pass out and never wake up, but some estimate the number topped 2,000 last year.
Vinnie, 25, started smoking marijuana at age 16. He said at first it was an occasional habit, but soon things escalated and he was smoking pot every day, and then started taking prescription pills.
His friend told him it would make him "feel good," and his reaction was, "why not, I like feeling good, I smoke weed everyday."
After he was arrested a few months later, Vinnie faced mandatory drug testing, so he started snorting heroin, believing it would take less time for the drug to flush out of his system.
"When I snorted it you feel like superman, you can take over anything you want, you can do everything you want and nothing else matters because you feel so good," he recalled.
But it was a hassle to get more heroin, because he didn't have a driver's license and his contact to get the drug was out of the area, so he was only using it sporadically.
Later, Vinnie began sniffing cocaine and taking the drug Oxycontin. When he began to experience withdrawal symptoms after running out of pills, his mother thought he had the flu.
Vinnie said he found a doctor who would give him "more narcotics than a dying cancer patient would get," and then he realized he could sell them and make a lot more than he was paying for them at the pharmacy. He then he started buying heroin and using it to get the same high, only for a lot cheaper price.
He was sent to a detox facility in Florida by his parents in 2010, but after he finished that program Vinnie went back to using drugs because he says he "just wanted to get high."
The downward spiral continued as he went from sniffing heroin to shooting it because the feeling was more intense and powerful. He said despite the risks, he had no concerns about dying.
"None whatsoever," he said. "That's the last thing you're worried about because all you want to feel is nothing."
Vinnie eventually moved to Newark. He said when he was high he felt great but when the drugs would wear off and he would get sick, crazy thoughts would begin.
"No one usually thinks, 'oh let me go get help because this is a problem.' They say 'let me go rob somebody so I'm not sick and I can get some money so I can buy some dope,'" he said.
Finally on Sept. 16, 2013, after finishing the remainder of his drug stash, Vinnie remembers having a moment of clarity.
"I sat there and I was like, what am I doing here? I can't do this anymore, I don't want to be here anymore. I am doing nothing with my life and I am going to die out here. Everybody else is dying on these streets, the streets are undefeated, they've never lost, so it's either I'm staying and dying or I'm leaving and winning," he said.
Hours later, Vinnie's father gave him a ride to a rehab facility. He checked himself into the Carrier Clinic, with hopes of kicking his drug habit. Several weeks later he enrolled in a program at Advanced Health and Education in Eatontown, and has been drug-free ever since.
At first, he said, detox was hard.
"Without the heroin in your system you're sweating, you're very nauseous, you've got the runs, your nose is running, you have a headache," he said. "You almost feel like you have a fever, if you didn't make it in time you would throw up, and you haven't eaten anything for days so you throw up stomach acid and bile and it would burn the whole way up. It was awful."
His advice to drug addicts - take a hard look at your life and what you are doing.
"Remember that somebody just died yesterday, somebody died today, and I guarantee you somebody is going to die tomorrow and you don't know if it's going to be you," he said.
These days, Vinnie has a good job that may turn into a career. He's working out at a gym, and attending outpatient meetings at night.
"The sky is the limit," he said. "I have left a place I never want to go back to."