"At the end of my run, I was homeless living on the streets of Kensington, begging for money." This is how Nicole Bowdler, now 29, described her life five years ago. Nicole had moved with her family from Philadelphia to Huntingdon Valley when she twelve. Looking back, she said the change was hard to handle.
"It was more money, more material things, clothes, cars," she said. As a teenager, she said she felt pressure to fit in. She started experimenting with alcohol, then marijuana. When she was 14 she was introduced by an older friend in the neighborhood to heroin.
"I was like wait; I thought you had to use a needle for that? And she's like, 'no you can snort it. It's not that big of a deal.'" But after that first high, Nicole became addicted.
"It's almost this euphoric feeling, all your cares and insecurities in the world just go by the wayside."
That escape from insecurities, pressure and conflict is what William Heran, Ph.D. of Seabrook House said draws many young people into using drugs, especially opiates such as painkillers and heroin. "It's a drug that gives you a false sense that everything is fine."
It's a similar story for one teenager from Ocean County. She asked that we hide her identity because she's just starting treatment at Seabrook. For now, we'll call her Anne. "I had pressure to play Division 1 sports; I had pressure to get an academic scholarship; I had pressure to live up to the expectations of my older siblings," she said.
Anne began drinking alcohol socially in high school, then she was introduced to prescription pain pills by a friend. As her habit grew, she turned to heroin.
"Pills are expensive after a while and I had about a $400 per day habit. That's hard to maintain and you can get the same high spending $100 on heroin," Anne said.
Like Nicole, Anne became an addict and she said finding heroin in the burbs was rarely a problem." In the beginning you had to go to a dealer to get it but then once they know that you do it, they kind of seek you out," she said.
"These are entrepreneurial people who know where the need is," Dr. Heran said.
Anne's addiction spiraled out of control when she went to college. When she was 19 and had nowhere to go, she realized she needed help. She considers herself lucky.
Nicole struggled for nearly 10 years until she hit rock bottom living on the streets." I had abscessed from head to toe and I was dirty, and I hadn't showered. I was in so much pain and I had no money to get high," she said.
Nicole called her father who took her to the hospital. She then went to rehabilitation at Livengrin where she now works helping others beat addiction.
"I feel that my life was spared so that I can share this message with people," she said.
Both Nicole's and Anne's advice to help young people fight temptation: Don't hang out with friends who use and if you're struggling with school or family problems, find someone to talk to. If not your parents, seek help from a sibling or guidance counselor.
Dr. Heran's advice to parents is to not assume the problem can't happen in your neighborhood or to your child. If you suspect use, talk to your child and help them find treatment.
Nicole is now five years sober. Anne is on her way to recovery.
For more resources, visit: http://teens.drugabuse.gov