You Helped Rescue Stephen from Opioid Addiction

Thank You Donors

"My life revolved around getting drugs. It was always on my mind, 24/7."

Growing up, Stephen W. could not have imagined that he'd ever say those words. A quiet, well-behaved boy, he was raised in a comfortable suburb of Philadelphia, with two older sisters and parents he says "were great."

But the opioid epidemic doesn't follow any expected patterns. It's just as likely to strike comfortable suburbs or rural farming towns as it is the inner city.

Opioid addiction has become a true health crisis in our country. According to the latest statistics, it's killing 80 people every single day. And Stephen came very close to being one of them.

I felt different from everyone else

That's how it started for Stephen. He had trouble fitting in at school. He was anxious and depressed. He didn't feel like he belonged.

In high school, Stephen found that drinking and smoking marijuana made him feel more comfortable. By the time he was 20, he was selling marijuana to support his habit.

"And when you sell drugs," he says, "you get involved with really sketchy people." They introduced him to a whole new variety of pills: Xanax, Percocet, MDMA.

Soon, Stephen was routinely heading to the Badlands of Philadelphia to buy drugs. It's known as the most dangerous part of the city. When he was robbed at gunpoint, he realized he was in way too deep. He decided he had to quit.

That's when he discovered the horror of opioid withdrawal

"I started to feel really weird—like my skin was crawling," Stephen said. "I had goosebumps and cold sweats." He couldn't tolerate it. Within five days, he was using again.

One morning, Stephen collapsed on his way to work and woke up in the hospital. His parents gave him an ultimatum: Either he went to addiction treatment, or he was on his own. The first two times Stephen went to treatment, he was using again his first day out.

"I just couldn't give up opioids," he says. "It was too hard."

His third attempt to get sober began in December 2012 at Hazelden in Plymouth, Minnesota. "A counselor took me under his wing," says Stephen. "He wasn't easy on me. But that's what I needed."

This month, Stephen celebrates four years of sobriety. He works at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, and he's in school, studying for his license in addiction counseling.

And if that doesn't tell you how grateful Stephen feels for the care he received with your generous help, this will: Stephen and his girlfriend named their new dog Hazel—after Hazelden. "It means a lot, because she brings us so much happiness," he says. "And we wouldn't have her unless we were sober."

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