Recovering addict: It's not an epidemic, it's an apocalypse

October 27, 2017 09:41 AM

CLIFTON PARK - Thirty-five year old Jason Berben was a football standout at Shenendehowa High School. As a little boy, he dreamed about becoming a police officer like his father and grandfather.

That dream was shattered after Jason got hooked on opioids.

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Speaking on the auditorium stage at his high school alma mater about drug abuse is something Jason Berben says he is eminently qualified to do.

"Check this out," Berben says to the assembly, holding up his criminal rap sheet, "First degree felonies on my rap sheet that's 43 pages long."

Berben has done prison time in three states. One morning he woke up and said to himself, "I don't want to die in prison." So he changed his thinking and he changed his life. In front of the Clifton Park community Thursday night, he wanted to make sure no one, especially young people, followed in his footsteps.

"This is why you're heroes," Berben lectured the gathering, "Because you're in this room tonight to know what's going on because this right now is not a heroin epidemic. This is not a fentanyl epidemic. This is an apocalypse."

Sharing the stage with Berben for the educational forum to provide a better understanding of heroin and opioid abuse, were: David Zon, an Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration; Dr. Molly Boyd-Smith, an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Toxicology at Albany Medical Center; and Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo, who knows all too well how bad things have gotten in his county.

"I get calls in the middle of the night," Zurlo says, "We have a heroin overdose it seems like it's every other night. We need to try something and I'm going to use every resource I have in my department to try to curb it."

Jason Berben, who says he's lost four friends to overdoses in the last two months, also says he's been sober for more than two years.

In response to the opioid crisis, the Rockefeller Institute, which is the public policy research arm of the State University of New York, is introducing on their website an interactive map to track heroin deaths around the state.

The map will be continually updated with the latest data available from the State Health Department to illustrate the toll the epidemic is having on our communities.


Dan Levy

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