Heroin has a face: A tough guy's journey to recovery

Heroin has a face: A tough guy's journey to recovery

A good kid. A varsity football player with a scholarship to college. That’s Justin Ochmanek.

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - After years of burying the pain of his parents' divorce, without a mom in his life throughout his teen years, he started abusing alcohol, cocaine and eventually opioids.

"I was doing really good in school and sports," says Justin.

A good student, he graduated from St John's High School with a football scholarship to college. Then he was introduced to the drug that took it all away, and by someone unexpected.

"A friend's dad actually gave me oxicontins in exchange for cocaine," Justin said.

That's when life changed.

"I masked all my feelings, all my pain my emotions with drugs for 13 years," Justin said. "I was lonely. My life revolved around work, drugs."

Justin held down a job, even when his addiction to opioid painkillers turned into heroin abuse. He overdosed twice, almost dying once. But even that didn't scare him enough to get help.

Only when he was laid off from his job and started running with a crowd that was breaking the law, did he hit his rock bottom.

"I got to a point in my life where the consequences in my life were going to be too much," Justin said.  "I was either going to kill someone, or someone was going to kill me."

Justin violated his probation. Scared to go to prison, he asked the judge to give him the full sentence to keep him off the street.

He spent four months in jail and another five months at the Salvation Army. While there he broke a rule and was kicked out. That's when he called someone he met at a F.A.D.D. meeting, Officer Dennis Whaley, who works with the Sheriff's Department's Team Recovery.

"I reached out to him and basically said I have nowhere to go and I don't want to use drugs. Can you help me?" Justin said.

That's when he really put to work the 12 steps he learned in his road to sobriety.

"What connected for me was in the 12 steps of recovery, they tell you you need to find a higher power, and when I was at the Salvation Army I found my higher power, and that's Jesus," he says.

Within 30 minutes of that call, Dennis had a bed lined up for Justin at the Zepf Recovery Center. Justin was off the street and away from his drug-using friends.

"And when I called Dennis, and he got me into a recovery program that quick, that built my faith," Justin said.

That's when he realized if he reached out, and made the right choices, these new friends were not going to give up on him.

"It made me able to trust in people who I never would have trusted in before," he says.

And working the 12 steps to sobriety also helped Justin to stop blaming others for his addiction.

"Ultimately, I was the cause and problem with my addiction and it was nobody else," Justin says. "I have wonderful people in my life now, like real true friends, not acquaintances."

Justin is now 17 months clean from heroin and opiates. He says life is beautiful right now, and he is so grateful to the people who have helped him along the way.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, you can contact D.A.R.T. at 419-213-6582

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