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Getting past the taste of heroin that never really goes away
28-year-old Anthony Vitt has been to rehab, jail and prison because of heroin. Now, he's five years' sober and a drug counselor
This story is part of a special series.

Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
Anthony Vitt, 28, of New Philadelphia battled heroin addiction for more than a decade. He's now been sober for five years and got his associate's degree to be a drug counselor in 2013.
Courtesy of Anthony Vitt
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This week, Attorney General Eric Holder called the increase in heroin-related deaths an “urgent and growing public health crisis.” Officials in Cuyahoga County project 200 people will die from heroin overdoses this year.

But in what might seem like the most unlikely place of all -- the rural communities of Tuscarawas County -- the drug has had a devastating presence for more than a decade. WKSU's Amanda Rabinowitz has a story of one addict who's found a new beginning. 


LISTEN: Heroin: Big Trouble in a Small Town - Anthony's story

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Twenty-eight-year-old Anthony Vitt of New Philadelphia has been to rehab. He’s been to jail. He’s been to prison. He knows more than a dozen people who have died. He nearly died too, several times. For more than a decade, heroin was the only thing he lived for. "I tried my first line and I fell in love," he said. 

An instant addiction
Vitt and his friends started smoking marijuana at 16. Then they tried shrooms, then LSD…And then, heroin was passed around a party and he was hooked. Instantly. The addiction, though, was gradual. He’d do it once a week, then twice, then every other day…then, by the time he was 19, it was a daily part of life.

"One time it was serious, that I had crack in one vein and heroin in the other, speedballing. I just didn’t have the willpower to say no. I just couldn’t stop."

Legal trouble and working the system
At the time, Vitt had no resources -- or reasons -- to stop. Then he got caught stealing to support his addiction. Vitt was placed in Tuscarawas County’s drug court program…It offers non-violent offenders treatment instead of jail. After six months, he tested positive for heroin and was kicked out. He says it became a game.    

"Our full time job was literally how we are going to pass this urine screen or what drug are we doing to not show up in our urine screen. It was so bad that the restrooms where you take your urine test in the courthouse, they had needles and people were literally using in the bathroom. Like they would pee and then they would use after they pee."The Tuscarawas County Courthouse in New Philadelphia, Ohio

Vitt’s life centered on working the judicial and treatment system. He often would get detoxification through the Canton Crisis Center with no plans to actually stay sober. It was, in a way, an economic decision.

"I would go there at least once every two to three months just so I can get out and then I could just shoot up a good amount of dope and get high. And it won’t take as much."

First round of treatment 
By the time he was 20, he checked himself into New Destiny – a faith-based, in-patient treatment facility in Wayne County. He completed six of nine months, then went to an intensive outpatient program…He says that introduced him to more people to do heroin with. Finally, his legal troubles caught up with him. He spent 80 days in the Tuscarawas County jail and completed a treatment program through the Stark Regional Community Correction Center. He enrolled at Kent State Tuscarawas. He stayed clean, but continued to live right next door to trouble.

The New Destiny Treatment Center in Clinton, Ohio"I saw a couple guys I knew. And next thing you know, I have a needle in my arm again. If I had a chance I probably would have gotten a tattoo on my chest – ‘Goal one: stay away from old friends.’ But I think if I would have ran away from Tuscarawas County, it doesn’t matter where you go, the drug is there."

Revolving door of jail and treatment 
Vitt’s cycle of use, jail and treatment continued for several more years. It’s a pattern U.S. Attorney Steve Dettlebach says the criminal justice system needs to change. He helped form a collaborative heroin action plan last year that focuses on better coordination. 

"The courts have to be involved to make sure that when people re-enter the community from jail that they re-enter with a chance of success instead of being just doomed to just go around through the revolving door of jail or worse yet, the morgue," Dettlebach says.

A new beginning 
After repeated turns through that revolving door, Vitt finally landed in prison. And that’s when something clicked. He enrolled in Pickaway Correctional Institution’s Oasis program. It’s designed to separate and treat inmates addicted to drugs and gives them counseling and job training. It’s highly structured and disciplined.

When he was released, he started taking his sobriety seriously. He enrolled in Stark State College with the goal of becoming a drug counselor. He graduated last May with an associate’s degree in social and human services. He’s been heroin-free for five years and this past year, he landed his dream job as a counselor at New Destiny --- the same rehab center where he was a client. 

"I’m not even a morning person but for some reason I haven’t complained since I’ve been up in the morning," he said. "I just love my job."

A lingering taste
Dressed in a tie and sitting at his desk, he says coming to work every day is his NA meeting. But, even five years’ sober doesn’t mean he’s cured.  

"There’s days I can be walking into work or walking into my house and I will taste heroin in my mouth like I just got done using. Just for like 10 seconds. I have the tools now to cope with that, but it’s just crazy."

Vitt still lives in New Philadelphia, and he still runs into his old friends. He says he’s polite and walks away. He fears for other young men and women in his community.

"In the New Philadelphia/Dover area, there’s a lot of suburbs and kids that have money and parents that have money," he says. "And like for drug dealers, they love it. Eat it up. And a lot of them are smart now. They just bring it into our county and then they leave."

Education is key
The U.S. Attorney’s office is also concerned. Part of its heroin action plan includes education. Dettlebach says people need to learn the ever-changing dangers of heroin.

"If you use heroin the very first time incorrectly, you can die. If the heroin you get is adulterated, you can die. If the heroin you get is too pure, you can die. If you go into treatment and come out of treatment and use heroin at the old dose, you can die."

Vitt agrees that better education could help the next generation of rural kids faced with the pressures he felt as a teenager.

"When I was in school it was: ‘Bring the D.A.R.E bear' or something and 'Just Say No.' It was one time -- a sheriff would come and talk about drugs and that was it. I didn’t really have a manual saying, ‘Heroin: OK, you have to have it every day or you’ll be sick. Or crack – if you take one hit you’re going to have to take another hit.’"

Vitt plans to continue helping and educating other addicts. He’s enrolling in Youngstown State University in the fall to get his bachelor’s degree. His ultimate goal is to be a counselor within the state prisons system –- the same programs that changed his life and gave him a second chance. 

Related Links & Resources
Prison program offers addicts a better way via The Columbus Dispatch

Listener Comments:

Glad that you made it, buddy. I'm very proud of you. There were some rough times I know, and a lot of friends lost along the way.

As an "alumnus" of New Destiny myself, I have to say that in spite of the religious element of the rehab (which I could do without) the place helped me greatly to get my head straight and find the success in life. I had to move out of the area to get away from the drugs - I really respect that Anthony's still there helping out.

Kids will be kids, but I hope that they will consider the consequences of drugs like heroin, meth, and crack before trying them, so they don't have to go through all the hell that we did.

Posted by: S.I. (Seattle, WA) on March 17, 2014 7:03AM
Congratulations Anthony! I haven't seen you in many years, but am excited that you have found your way and have found a way to take your past and help others in the future. Keep up the great work! Thank you for sharing your story and helping others along the way.

Posted by: Mistee (Florida) on March 13, 2014 8:03AM
Anthony, So happy for you! So happy you found you way and the strength and conviction to beat this terrible addiction! Wishing you unending blessings, strength, and conviction. Congratulations on landing your dream job. Happy to know you are now using your knowledge to help others!

Posted by: Kim Kress (New Phila.) on March 13, 2014 6:03AM
Congratulations, Anthony. Praying for your continued strength each day. Proud of your desire to beat this drug and to help others also.

Posted by: Susan (New Phila) on March 13, 2014 2:03AM
I'm so proud of you Anthony! I was always hoping and praying you would get better for yourself and for your loved ones! It's always good to see you around old neighbor!

Posted by: Jamie (New phila) on March 12, 2014 12:03PM
Brother. You are the man! I remember growing up with you and all the hardships you faced with this demon. I'm so proud of you bro words can't explain it! I love you man, best of luck on your ventures.

Posted by: Chris May on March 12, 2014 12:03PM
Anthony. I am so very proud of you. You always stopped to see me at work, remember those long talks. I'm so glad you did this for you. Hope to talk with you soon.

Posted by: Gwen (Dover) on March 12, 2014 12:03PM
I went to school with Anthony. I am so happy for the positive change he's made and his goal to reach out!! Keep it up!!

Posted by: Heather Putnam-Patacca (Maumee) on March 12, 2014 12:03PM
Well done, Anthony! What courage you have to share your story, compassion to council others, and strength to further your studies (in order to reach even more people). Be proud. You are a remarkable man.

Posted by: Kelli (United States) on March 12, 2014 12:03PM
Anthony, I am so proud of you and your accomplishments in recovery and landing your dream job of being a drug counselor.

I was Anthony's former case manager at the Eastern Ohio Correction Center, Wintersville, Ohio, and this was one of his goals he wanted to accomplish after being clean for several years and graduating from college. Anthony is a remarkable young man and I enjoyed working with him to guide him towards a sober-free lifestyle.

Posted by: Tammy (EOCC) on March 12, 2014 11:03AM
I am so proud of Anthony! I went to school with him and to see him now compared to then is awsome!!!! Keep up the great work! :)

Posted by: Bobbi Abel (Dennison Ohio) on March 12, 2014 11:03AM
I am so happy for you Anthony! I used to work with your mother Brenda. I am a nurse case manager at Edwin Shaw Rehab Dobkin Center for Addiction Services. I wish we had more treatment facilities in Tusc county.

Posted by: Erika Lewis (Dover) on March 12, 2014 11:03AM
We love you anthony and are soooo proud of you.

Posted by: alexis (new phila) on March 12, 2014 11:03AM
I knew Anthony, i lived accross the street From him on Ray Ave. I always thought what a goodlooking young man throwing his life away to drugs. The traffic traffic in and out of Thére home was crazy. I must say i thought one of the two. Boys would end up dead. I gotta say there is change out there if you want it, I had made them over 6 yrs ago ! WAY TO GO ANTHONY YOU MAKE ME PROUD. AND ALOT OF OTHER PEOPLE ALSO.....ANOTHER LIFE SAVED

Posted by: christy (strasburg) on March 12, 2014 10:03AM
Congratulations on 5 years clean. I will pray you stay strong and continue to help others. God Bless you and your family.

Posted by: Dixie (New Philadelphia) on March 12, 2014 10:03AM
Great interview. Anthony works for me at New Destiny and I have seen a remarkable change in this young man. He is a model of what treatment can do. Thank you for getting the message of hope out to others. Our goal is to rescue as many as possible just like Anthony.

Posted by: Dr. Bolois (Clinton, Ohio) on March 12, 2014 9:03AM
Very Proud of everything he's accomplished; so glad he's in my life! Great article too!

Posted by: Brittany on March 12, 2014 9:03AM
Anthony, im so proud of you and so proud that you have reached your goals and don't stop dreaming you can do anything you want, just keep up that great work and your such an inspiration. im so happy I got to go school with you and see how you have changed for the best and give hope to everyone else who has went through the same addiction or know a family member going through it!!!

Posted by: Brooke (Baltic) on March 12, 2014 9:03AM
Very good article. We are so happy for Anthony. He is a great addition to our Staff. New Destiny is in Wayne Co. not Summit. Thanks


Posted by: Tim Doss (New Destiny) on March 12, 2014 9:03AM
Anthony Iam so proud of you, it has been a long way for you but now you are here. Keep up the great work stay strong. You will do wondermus in this line of work because you have been there. You have been blessed by GOD to be alive another day. YOU HAVE ANOTHER LIFE TO LIVE NOW. May you always stay strong and healthy. Prayers go your way daily.
:) and be PROUD of who you have become.

Posted by: Julene (new phila) on March 12, 2014 8:03AM
Anthony, our son 22 years old is at New Destiny Treatment at this time,30 days for a 9 month program. Our son went from smoking pot to using heroin, and caught up in a web of bad guys. How did this happen to our children? Do not ever let go of your dream. Thank you for your story and N.A.L. will learn from you at New Destiny, I hope to meet you soon.

Posted by: Laurie (Canton) on March 12, 2014 8:03AM
Anthony, God Bless you! I think of you and your family often. So glad to hear you are using your addiction and recovery to help others.

Posted by: Anonymous on March 12, 2014 8:03AM
Great job Anthony, May you continue to reach out and help others overcome this addiction, it has consumed way too many. Congratulations on 5 years sober. Keep up the great work :)

Posted by: LaShan (New Phila) on March 12, 2014 8:03AM
I was always amazed at how you guys did what you did and didn't die. I know those from the area that did die after use of heroin . I'm thankful you were the energizer bunny that kept going and going until you figured it out. Keep your eyes on the prize ! Sometimes in life you have to go through hell to find heaven. God bless ! Keep learning and growing and giving back !

Posted by: Mrs. K (Hagerstown md) on March 12, 2014 8:03AM
Awesome" so proud of ypu

Posted by: donicka smitley (dover) on March 12, 2014 6:03AM
Im proud of u Anthony!!!!!!!!! :)

Posted by: Holly Abel (dover) on March 12, 2014 6:03AM
My family grew up with the Vitt's and this is just great to hear. I have not seen Anthony in some time but am still proud of him. Keep up the great work and keep inspiring others.

Posted by: Josh (New Philadelphia) on March 12, 2014 5:03AM
I have never known or seen anyone do this but I watch enough news and read the papers to know it is a very dangerous drug that nobody should mess with. It scares the hell out of me just reading about it I only wish there was a way to reach our youth today by them getting scared and not venture into that route. Prayers for you and blessings your way.

Posted by: blanche (louisville) on March 12, 2014 3:03AM
Hey, Anthony! I am so proud of you. Far too many of my students have ended up in a morgue. I am touched by your testimony and your goal of helping others. You are an inspiration. I will be praying that you stay strong and committed!

Posted by: Kathy S., retired teacher (teacher) on March 12, 2014 2:03AM
Anthony, this is phenomenal. I had to fight back tears with pride and joy for you. Thank you for sharing and being an inspiration to others who are addicted or that have loved ones that are. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been but I am glad you made it to recovery and made such a great career out of helping others.

Posted by: Erika (Dover) on March 12, 2014 2:03AM
Very proud of you Anthony what an amazing article. Keep it up and keep reaching your goals =)

Posted by: Natalie (Miller) on March 12, 2014 2:03AM
I'm happy for you Anthony; work hard-stay clean, you have so much more to live for. As a former D.A.R.E. officer, I am glad to hear your comments. The goal of all D.A.R.E. officers is to never have you start taking drugs; to hope that you never try drugs. Stay clean....YOU can make a difference. Thank you!

Posted by: Bob Michels (Uhrichsville) on March 12, 2014 1:03AM
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