Editor's note: This is the first of a five-part series about a hearing held at Daytop Prep School in Mendham by the Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Task Force on Heroin and Other Opiate Use Amongst New Jersey's Youth and Young Adults.
One mother had lost her son, another was trying to save hers.
Both were keynote speakers as they testified Tuesday to the Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Task Force on Heroin and Other Opiate Use Amongst New Jersey's Youth and Young Adults at the in Mendham.
The task force heard from prosecutors, police officers, mental health professionals and parents in the second of three planned hearings that will result in a report to be delivered to Gov. Chris Christie and legislature, chairman Frank Greenagel Jr. said.
According to Greenagel, that report will recommend ways to improve prevention, treatment and recovery support services of opiate and heroin abuse and will be available online to the public.
Emotions ran high throughout the hearing, on both sides of the table. Family members of those who have struggled with the process of getting help for their loved ones shared their painful journey through the system. Their stories sparked obvious emotion in the members of the task force, many of whom have had their own journey through addiction, lost a loved one to addiction, work helping those with addiction or some combination of all three.
The testimony of the residents laid out the prescription pills as a gateway to a full-blown heroin addiction.
The Task Force considered the testimony from Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony Kearns who recently warned of dangerous heroin-causing overdoses among county residents.
“We have the purest heroin out of the surrounding states,” Kearns said.
Sparta Police Sgt. John Beebe spoke of a program he designed to get into the middle and elementary schools to change the culture early. The plan would be to have officers mentor 20 students from each middle school grade, give them a uniform, and allow them to accompany officers at special events.
But the testimony that ranked among the most powerful belonged to one of the recovering addicts known only as Emily. Emily, who is a graduate of the Daytop program, began taking pills at 14-years-old and within a year had transitioned to heroin.
“I was digging my own grave, basically. You always try to chase that first high, and you keep moving up and up,” Emily said. “I started sniffing heroin. One bag, then two bags, then three bags.”
According to Emily, she dropped out of school and began selling drugs to support her habit.
“I wanted to be like Johnny Depp in the movie 'BLOW.' That was my inspiration,” Emily said. “I wanted to be a drug dealer.”
Soon, despite swearing she would never use a needle for drugs, Emily found snorting heroin wasn’t enough.
“It was Christmas Eve and I will never forget it,” Emily said, recalling the first time she shot heroin. “I went from one bag to 20 bags a day before I came here. I was shooting 20 bags a day.”
Emily said an arrest with more than 100 bags of heroin led her to Daytop and it was after 60 days she realized she really wanted help.
“I felt happy being sober and I found different ways of dealing with my emotions besides using drugs. I was here for almost a full year and it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Emily said. “Treatment works, if you want it, it works.”
Emily supported the notion that more treatment centers available could make a difference to those struggling with addiction and that she was proof of their effectiveness.
“I am going to college, I got my permit here and now I have my license and my own car and I wake up happy and thankful,” Emily said. “I love my life now and I embrace it. “
Tuesday’s hearing coincided with the two-year anniversary of Emily’s Daytop graduation and James Curtin, executive director of Daytop and Task Force member, described Emily as a miracle.
“She is the reason why we do what we do,” Curtin said.