The Teenage Face of Heroin Abuse: Sean O'Conner, 19

He entered rehab after overdosing at a friend's party and being left alone, leaning against a tree.

Video: Sean O'Conner in His Own Words

Video: Sean O'Conner in His Own Words


Sean O'Conner had what he considers an enjoyable, average childhood, but this did not stop him from becoming a heroin addict in high school. Drug abuse slowly destroyed his life.

When he first began abusing heroin, Sean, now 19, lived with his aunt, uncle, and cousins in East Windsor, N.J. After they found out about his heroin abuse, Sean's relatives kicked him out. They feared the consequences of allowing a drug user to live under the same roof as their children.

Sean is just one in a flood of teens and 20-somethings in suburbs of the Northeast who are becoming addicted to drugs like heroin and prescription opiates.

A few weeks ago, Sean entered Daytop, a northern New Jersey drug treatment facility. Being around peers with similar problems is already helping him want to stay clean. He recently spoke with U.S. News about his addiction. Excerpts:

When I was stealing from my aunt and uncle and stealing from my neighbors, I was in a really bad place. Anything lying around and worth money—I took it. The night I overdosed, I was at my friend's birthday party, and I got really drunk because I was waiting to get heroin and it wasn't there yet. When my neighbor got some, I got a ride from the party to his house. I don't really remember this, but from what people told me, after I shot up, I started freaking out [having seizures], and my neighbor propped me up against a tree, went back inside, and just left me there. Thankfully, another neighbor saw me outside and called the cops. The next thing I remember is waking up in the ambulance after they gave me the Narcan shot. They told me I had been having seizures and that I almost choked on my tongue.

After I relapsed, my mom said, "Go and get better or you're done, no more family." My first few days here I said, "F--- this place, I'm leaving. I would rather sit in county [jail] for six to eight months." Then one night I realized all the positive things about this place. I can get my high school diploma. I can get my family back. By the time I'm out, my probation will be over, I'll have a large amount of clean time, and I'll have more tools and coping skills to use when I'm back out in the world.

I've only been here 14 days today, but I've realized this is the place where I have to be, and it helps. Seeing people actually be here for seven, eight months helps. If they can do it, I can do it too.