The love of her life
Carolyn Alfieri 41, of Huntington, ruefully remembers very clearly the date she first took OxyContin.
"It was Dec. 15, 2000. You always remember the date you meet the love of your life."
At 21, she started drinking and using other substances, but said she "really found my passion, my niche, the thing that really worked for me" when she was prescribed an opiate, Vicodin, for pain treatment when she was 26.
After she progressed to OxyContin, her descent was rapid over the course of her eight-year addiction. Alfieri said she was arrested multiple times for forging prescriptions, went through her bank account and sold everything that ever meant anything to her, including her dead mother's wedding rings and a fine violin her mother had bought for her.
She managed to get sober, starting on Jan. 31, 2008, with the assistance, for three months, of the drug Suboxone, which helps some addicts get off drugs but is sought out by other addicts who abuse it.
OxyContin nearly destroyed her, she said. She is now employed and in a relationship, she said, but, "I'm 41 years old and I can't get a line of credit. I just had my teeth redone for $7,000 because when you are active in your addiction, brushing your teeth takes too much time and effort."
The Medford pharmacy murders -- committed in the course of a prescription painkiller robbery, according to police -- "really shook me up," she said. "There but for the grace of God. This is where the disease of addiction will take you if left untreated."
Today, Alfieri tells her story of addiction as often as she can, to the media and to groups of recovering addicts.
"If I can save a life with what I've been through, then everything I've been through is worth it," she said.
Daniel A., 21, of Lindenhurst, loved the way Vicodin and Percocet pills made him feel after he first tried them at age 18. He wanted them so much that he began to date a girl simply because he knew her mother had a prescription for Percocet, which contains oxycodone.
"We'd be hanging out and she'd get me a handful from her parent's medicine cabinet," he said recently. "I don't think they knew I was a drug addict. I'd say, 'Oh, I have a toothache.' I faked a toothache for about two months."
Daniel, who is now in a 12-step recovery program and has been sober for about three months, had a troubled youth of truancy, family tumult and a jail term for robbery. A regular marijuana user, he began taking Vicodin and Percocet, he said, because of distress over a girlfriend's abortion.
"It was like such a rush, I felt like a rock star," he said. "Once I felt it the first time, that became my new high. My whole day was based on that. I could do anything and it would make it greater."
He and that girlfriend soon broke up, which is when he took up with the girl whose mother had Percocet.
"I don't know if I needed more and more at first, but I started doing more and more because it was available, from her and from others who were doing it," he said. "Once you start doing that, you get involved with other people who are doing that."
His addiction to the pills and later to Suboxone turned his life into a misery. The Suboxone "was getting me higher than I'd ever been" on the other pills.
Eventually, he entered treatment. "I'm doing things, going to the beach, firework shows, the diner, just sober, beautiful things."
The most amazing feeling
Jenna Montalbano, 22, is a model and a student at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University these days, and proudly sober.
When she turned 18, she began a journey of addiction, snorting ketamine, an anesthetic known as Special K on the club scene, and moving on to cocaine and alcohol.
After her first try at sobriety, it was the routine prescribing of opiate painkillers that caused her to relapse.
Last September, she went to an ear, nose and throat specialist, then an oral surgeon because of severe pain from swelling in glands. She told neither of them that she was an addict, and both of them prescribed Vicodin for pain.
"One gave me a higher prescription than the other because I complained of pain," she said. "I may have felt it but it may have been my addictive mind wanting more. Soon I was snorting the Vicodin -- I just thought it would hit me faster and get me high."
When it didn't get her high enough fast enough, she got agitated, she said. A fellow model on a photo shoot "offered me cocaine and I got high off the mixture of Vicodin and cocaine." Soon, she said, she was addicted to cocaine. When she couldn't afford that anymore, "I became a severe alcoholic."
Finally, she went into treatment again, and counts March 12 as her "sober date." Of sobriety, she said, "It's the most amazing feeling in the world."