This is the third in a week-long, five-part series about the abuse of heroin and other opiates among New Jersey's youth. Stacy Proebstle talks to recovering addicts, parents, prevention specialists, substance-abuse professionals and law enforcement officers to address current trends and issues along with possible solutions. Read the full series here.

Prescription drug addiction could happen to anyone.

Flickr User p_x_g
Flickr User p_x_g

Jesse is a 20 year-old junior at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. He started drinking alcohol in sixth grade. After trying cocaine in high school, he transitioned into "study drugs" adderall and ritalin.

"I knew what I was doing and I knew that it was harming me, but I didn't want to stop and I couldn't stop" he said.

His drug abuse caused him to skip going to college his freshman year in Connecticut and do anything to support his addiction.

"I was spiraling downward, I had about three arrests in six weeks. I lost close relationships, friendships."

Jesse ended up in rehabilitation and two years later he is clean and a student at Rutgers University staying in the Recovery House.

"I am studying biology and hope to work in the medical field one day."

He credits the program with helping him stay clean.

"My biggest fear when I got sober was coming back to college and doing it sober, but I had an amazing year here at the Recovery House and I got pretty good grades."

20 year-old Jay says he also started using alcohol and smoking marijuana mainly because of peer pressure in high school. Soon he found himself raiding medicine cabinets for painkillers.

"I was stealing a lot of percocets from my grandmother."

He moved onto adderall to help him study, he said, and then heroin and ecstasy.

"I was dealing drugs and doing a lot of things to get the money to support my habit. I was in and out of jail."

Today he is 23 months clean and is also a student living at Recovery House at Rutgers.

Frank Greenagel is a recovery counselor on campus. He says the challenge has to do with adolescents' attitudes that prescription drugs are harmless.

"I think that we need to do more education in middle school and high school because kids have gotten the message about alcohol and marijuana. They are not getting enough messages about xanax, valium and opiate painkillers, ritalin, adderall, things like that."

He says the problem has escalated in recent years.

"Each year the issue has gotten worse and I don't think it can get much worse than this."

Greenagel says there should be recovery houses on all college campuses and at some high schools in the state.

"We are the only recovery house at a college in the state and New Jersey doesn't have any recovery high schools. The problem is after these kids get clean, its very difficult to send them right back to where they came from. I compare it to someone recovering from alcohol addiction. We wouldn't send them back to a bar that they hung out at every week and yet we send kids back to the high schools and the colleges that they got drunk or high at and there's got to be a change made."

Other Addiction Stories

"I was addicted to alcohol and pills"

John Moriarty first started smoking pot and drinking alcohol at age 14. "I loved the way it made me feel" he said.

Eventually, he started using Valium in his twenties along with drinking.

"It eased my anxiety" he said.

Moriarty said he lost jobs and committed petty crimes to support his addiction. "I went to rehab at age 19 but I didn't get sober for ten years, until 2000."

It took a meaningful relationship to end that served as his wake up call.

"Still to this day I recall her leaving and blaming it all on my addictions and not being willing to get help. That pain was enough for me to finally realize I needed help. I entered 12 steps and quickly realized I had a big problem."

Today, he's twelve years sober.

"I started with prescription pills and moved onto heroin."

Ira Levy started at age 13 using marijuana and abusing prescription pills, eventually turning to heroin a few years later.

"By the time I was 16, I was a full blown heroin user" he said.

He dropped out of school at age 16, was arrested numerous times and overdosed three times.

"I probably shouldn't be alive today."

Levy said after numerous trips to rehab and jail he finally made a decision to get clean.

"Jail was a good motivator. I was afraid of long term jail or death. I followed a twelve step program and I am so blessed to be here today."

Both men currently work at Sunrise Detox in Stiring, New Jersey as detoxification experts.

Hearing On Opiate Use In Monmouth County

The Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Task Force on Heroin and Other Opiate Use by New Jersey's Youth and Young Adults will hold a third public hearing at 10 a.m. Aug. 29th at the Monmouth County Library Headquarters, Symmes Drive.

The Task Force expects to hear testimony from Drs. Lisa Marsch and Louis Baxter, leading authorities on the treatment of adolescent and young adult opiate addiction and medication-assisted addiction treatment, respectively. The Task Force also expects to consider testimony from Randy Grimes, former lineman with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will discuss sports injuries and his addiction to prescription painkillers.

The Task Force will also hear testimony from impacted family members and young persons in recovery from heroin/prescription painkiller addiction.

In 2011, there were 7,338 admissions of Monmouth County residents into New Jersey alcohol/drug treatment facilities, the highest of any county in the state. In 41 percent of those admissions (3,015), the primary drug being used was heroin or other opiate (oxycodone, morphine, codeine, etc).

"Many Monmouth County families are impacted each day by heroin and other opiate drugs," said Barry W. Johnson, director of the county's Office of Addiction Services. "We encourage Monmouth County residents to testify at the public hearing about their experiences with these powerful and dangerous drugs."


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