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Staying Strong in the Suburbs

Heroin word and photo of needle

When I was four years old, I moved to suburban Monmouth County New Jersey from Buffalo, New York. When I was 19, I started taking prescription painkillers for fun. By the time I was 21, I graduated to heroin. As someone who has lived in New Jersey his entire life and has made every possible addiction-related mistake one could make in this state, short of severely injuring someone else, I am still shocked to see what this state is turning into. Living in the suburbs, I had always had to go to the “bad” places to get my fix. Situations like the recent drug bust in suburban North Jersey are clear examples of just how much that has changed.

Communities like that one I grew up in are housing more and more large-scale illegal drug rings, putting more and more kids, as well as people in recovery like me at risk. I think about how, on any given day, an unsuspecting high school, or even middle school student, can go through what I went through, and it makes me sick. I don’t know if this new strict liability statute is the answer, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. At the very least, it may make kids think twice about getting involved with these drugs that cause so much damage.

During the peak of my heroin addiction, I nearly died. This could have all if somebody would have stepped and took meaningful steps to punish my dealer. At the end of the day, who is more responsible for their actions: the heroin addict whose brain chemistry has been completely transformed by the drug or the dealer who prays on the addicts’ need to make money? I’m not trying to blame anybody else about where I ended up, but let’s be realistic here. Heroin has now become a problem for EVERYBODY, from the impoverished inner city resident to the privileged honor student.

One of the things that scare me most about this suburban invasion is how accessible heroin is becoming in communities just like mine. I’m fortunate enough to have gotten amazing treatment and don’t feel as though I’m in any real danger of relapse right now; but I’m also smart enough to stay away from areas in which I know I could score quickly. It’s almost like this stuff is following me. They tell you that recovery is a lifelong process for a reason and the more you’re tested, the more vulnerable you become to slip-ups. I’m doing my part to stay clean, but it’s getting harder with these drugs coming into the suburbs. 

Joe A.
Toms River, NJ

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