Nick Bianco says he knows what it’s like to hit rock bottom.
The Wadsworth native is a former heroin addict who says he was arrested about 40 times.
The 33-year-old was one of three keynote speakers at an anti-drug abuse seminar Saturday morning at the Performing Arts Center in Medina. There were about 40 people in attendance for the program put on by a new group called SUPPORT.
Dr. Brad Lander, a clinical director of addiction psychology at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, also was a speaker along with Nicole Stacey, Brunswick High School’s mental health specialist.
The seminar was a project of Junior Leadership Medina County, which also held an open discussion for students, educators and community members. SUPPORT is an acronym for “sharing uplifting possibilities, protecting others and recovering together.”
Bianco, who graduated in 2003 from Wadsworth High School, said he works with The LCADA Way, a Lorain County-based nonprofit treatment center that recently opened in Wadsworth. There’s also a center in Medina. He said he finds patients sober houses in which to live.
He said he realized something was amiss in his life in fifth or sixth grade and felt as if he was an outcast who didn’t fit in. He often sat by himself at lunch.
“At the time, I didn’t know there was any other way to feel,” he said. “I was in my room using by myself at 15.”
He was introduced to opioids his junior year of high school.
“I found the ‘on’ switch (in my life),” Bianco said. “I found the solution to all my problems.”
His addictive lifestyle started with marijuana and alcohol. It progressed to oxycodone and eventually heroin.
“(Oxycodone) was everywhere, easy to find and relatively cheap,” Bianco said.
He said by the time he was 20, he was using drugs daily.
Bianco said he switched to heroin because it was “a lot cheaper and more plentiful.
“Things spiraled out of control. I was in and out of jail. It’s crazy where addiction will take you.”
Five times in detox
He said he detoxed five times trying to get clean.
“Each one, I swore it would be the last,” Bianco said. “I had a great plan for the future. Days later, I’d have the needle in my arm.”
He said he became sober for a while at Origins Recovery Center on South Padre Island in Texas in 2012. The area is known for a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation center associated with the television talk show hosted by Phil McGraw, known as Dr. Phil.
“I was wanting what they were selling,” he said.
Bianco said he came home to Ohio and relapsed. While at lunch, he ordered a margarita and went on quite a bender after that.
He thought he might overdose in the dingy hotel room in which he was staying.
“If I stayed, it was going to end very badly,” Bianco said.
Then he entered a program called Sober Living in Texas and stayed there 14 months.
Three years later, Bianco’s work with LCADA Way is fulfilling for him.
“It’s been a blessing,” he said.
He urged people to reach out to struggling people like he once was.
“It might save their life,” Bianco said. “Have realistic talks with your kids. Be real with them.”
He said his life today includes working with the Wadsworth Recovery Connection, where his team of volunteers will help addicts in need. A hotline number is (330) 334-5026.
“I’ve compiled a database of providers,” Bianco said. “We’ll get them hooked up with the right place. We coach them through it. Get on as many waiting lists as you can.”
Stacey is a certified school social worker. She said there is a major stigma associated with the words “mental health” nationwide.
“In the U.S., we take better care of our dental health than we do our mental health,” she said. “I never heard of a school shooting because someone had bad teeth.”
She said early intervention is the key with mental health problems.
Lander said he’s been working in the addiction field for more than 30 years.
He said the largest “gateway” drug isn’t marijuana. It’s nicotine.
“It sets you up for addiction,” Lander said.
He said marijuana use is up among adolescents. Lander said people should not keep quiet if children are seen using drugs, even though there could be some major blowback for informing on them. He said to speak out to the child’s parents or teachers.
“There’s one main question: How much do I care about this person?”
Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.