Despite aggressive, ongoing efforts to warn New Jersey teens and their parents about the growing epidemic of prescription drug and heroin use, an increasing number of our kids are getting hooked on heroin, and many are overdosing on the dangerous drugs, in some cases, fatally.

There are clear warning signs, according to Angelo Valente, the executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey.

“It’s a change of friends, so if you see your child who has had a group of friends for many years, and those friends are no longer a part of his or her life, that’s certainly a big sign,” Valente said.

Another indication, Valente said, is your son or daughter suddenly nodding off at the dinner table. Some drug users may also experience constant itching.

“We hear from parents about how their children are sitting watching TV and itching to a point where they really are distracting all the other members of the family that are sitting there,” he said. “And certainly bloodshed eyes and also loss of valuables in the home, because they need to support their habits, they need to be able to get money from some source.”

He said if you see these signs, “make sure you challenge the child to find out what the issue may be, and get help, there is no step more important than getting help for that child as quickly as possible.”

Christina Rivell, 17, who became a heroin addict at the age of 15, did get the help she needed to turn her life around.

“I was going out with a boyfriend who was selling opiates,” she said. “It started out with those, and once we broke up I went right to heroin because I needed it to feel normal – it wasn’t to get high anymore, I needed it to get up, go to work and go to school.”

She said in the beginning, heroin was all fun and games.

“You wake up, you get high, you feel fine, you hang out with your friends, but after a while your body needs it and when you wake up you have withdrawals,” she said. “You’re sweating, you can’t function without the heroin, and when you get it, you feel absolutely normal and then it goes on from there, and eventually, you’ll do anything for it.”

Rivell said her life quickly spiraled downhill.

“I sold everything I had, sold my phone, I got another one, sold that one, sold all my belongings, and then I was stealing from my job,” she said. “I was searching my boyfriend’s house for something to steal and sell.”

Even after going into detox for weeks, Rivell said she still had withdrawals and began wondering if the symptoms would ever stop.

“It was throwing up, cold sweats, can’t go to sleep, restless legs, basically it’s the flu times 10,” she said. “You just can’t function at all. You think it’s something you can handle, but it changes you, it’s a drug you cannot get off of without help.”

Paul Ressler of Hamilton remembers when his son, Cory began using drugs at the age of 13.

He did go through treatment and was clean for a while. However, in 2010, at the age of 22, Cory relapsed and died of a heroin and prescription drug overdose.

“He was manipulating, stealing from my wallet, stealing from my wife, doing illegal things to raise funds for his habit,” Ressler said. “There was a sudden decline at school with his grades, not being able to get up in the morning, hanging out with a different set of friends, and just his failure to comply with the rules and regulations of the house.”

Ressler said the death of his son destroyed his family.

“It’s hard to describe the loss of a child,” he said. “I was supposed to die first. Parents must become involved in the lives of their children while they still have to opportunity.”

Read More: Drugs and Our Kids NJ’s heroin epidemic |


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