How those troubled by addiction find their way out of the darkness and realize a life full of possibility
by Bill Donahue

When Sheila Stephens was entering the second grade, her family moved from a gritty part of Northeast Philadelphia to idyllic Washington Township, N.J. The schools there were better, the neighborhoods safer, though something menacing lurked just beneath the surface.

As it turns out, the danger was practically unavoidable.

By her 19th birthday, Stephens was back in Philadelphia—only this time at a particularly sordid corner of North Philadelphia, reputed for drugs and violence. There, she was turning tricks in order to score her next fix of the substance that had derailed her life.

Two years earlier, in Washington Township, she had befriended a crowd of older kids who experimented with drugs and alcohol. First, she was sipping beer on a Saturday night; then, she was taking hits of marijuana from a pipe; then, she was dabbling in hard drugs—specifically, heroin. Before she knew it, she was hooked.

Wayne Michaels came from what he calls “a nice family” in Bucks County. Throughout high school and college, he was athletic and outgoing, working toward a career in the legal profession. After graduating with a degree in criminal justice from Shippensburg University, he lost his way. Within a year of being out of college, he was jobless, groundless and depressed, with only one “shining light” in his life: heroin.

Michaels and Stephens—not their real names, by request, out of respect to their families—represent a growing trend: suburban kids from good families who fall under the influence of highly addictive, potentially deadly opioids and other illicit substances. In 2012, approximately 669,000 people ages 12 and older in the United States reported using heroin in the past year, compared with 404,000 in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Once considered an inner city problem, the hard-drug epidemic does not discriminate in terms of age, race or socioeconomic status.

Heroin continues to draw new users, despite the significant risks that come with “chasing the rush,” as Michaels calls it: broken family ties, derailed careers and, of course, potentially fatal conditions and diseases, including cardiac problems, hepatitis and HIV.

Although the path to recovery is not an easy one, help is within reach. Locally based medical centers and behavioral health facilities, staffed by qualified medical personnel, are eager to help those battling addiction—whether it be related to heroin, alcohol or some other substance—and other behavioral issues, with offer numerous programs for inpatient and outpatient care.

Stephens, for her part, realized she had to choose from one of two options: get clean or descend further into darkness. She chose the former and enrolled in a rehabilitation center in South Jersey and, after a relapse, another one in South Florida. Now 25 and clean for almost three years, she has gone back to school in pursuit of a degree in psychology or nursing, with the goal of helping others afflicted with addiction.

“It was the lowest point of my life,” she recalls of her time as an addict. “I knew I had to change or I would probably be dead, but at the time I couldn’t see a clear path out of it. I needed help beyond what I knew I had within me.”

Michaels, meanwhile, followed a different route but came to the same conclusion. After several brushes with the law, losing a number of longtime friends and essentially pulling his family apart, he too realized he needed to make changes. He spent time at a rehabilitation clinic in Montgomery County and has since come home to try to get his life back on track. Although he admits he’s not yet where he needs to be, he’s committed to expelling his demon.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to contend with—no question,” he says. “I have a lot of regrets from the past few years, and those years feel so empty to me now. Now I feel like I have a reason to get up every day.”

Time to Heal
When you or a loved one are in need of care to overcome an addiction or other behavioral issue, a number of qualified medical facilities and organizations stand ready to help. The following locations help patients get on the path toward healing and personal growth.

BioCare Recovery
267-392-5200 | biocarerecovery.com

The Industrial Health Care Center
Rehabilitation and Occupational Specialists
215-750-6426 | industrialhcc.com

Summit Behavioral Health at Doylestown
855-885-5058 | summithelps.com