Former teen addicts, now in rehab, describe new life, hope

MENDHAM, N.J. - Kathleen, a bright eyed teenage girl stood up from her desk as she finished an English class Thursday. Minutes earlier, she had discussed a composition assignment with her teacher.

Although resembling a prep-school student, Kathleen had a different background. Just eight months earlier, she was shooting heroin daily and snorting coke, and was "on the run" from police - and when picked up on drug charges, she assaulted a police officer and kicked out his patrol car window, she recalled Thursday.

Standing in Daytop Mendham adolescent substance abuse rehabilitation center, she talked of how her future now looks very promising, and how she looked forward to college and a career in psychology or social work. Her transformation, she said, was due to the Daytop program.

Town of Essex farmer Sandy Lewis, a retired Wall Street executive, is proposing to establish a similar program in Essex County. His preferred site is the former Essex County Home in Whallonsburg, next to his organic farm operation.

Lewis is seeking community support for such a facility, a necessary first step before the state will allow it to open - so he sponsored a trip for county officials to visit the rehab center in Mendham.

Thursday, a group of Essex County officials spent a day in the Daytop Mendham facility, visiting classrooms, sitting in on group sessions and meeting with staff.

Moments after sharing definitions of vocabulary words - "veracity, charlatan, dearth and fallow" - with her four classmates, Kathleen talked about her life and future.

"I was a 'garbage head' - I'd take any drug to get high," she said. "I stole my mother's wedding ring and sold it to buy drugs."

She continued her harrowing tale.

"I look back and realize it's been hard to go through but I've gone through tremendous change - now I want to stay clean and do so much more for myself."

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