GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. -- There are stories just under the surface of our city streets. Stories that defy the light of day. Stories that begin innocently enough, as they are the stories of kids that somehow took a wrong turn.
Kids, like Ashton.
"I started smoking pot and drinking, doing it to fit in. It was the thing to do," Ashton recalled of his entry into drug use.
Ashton started like many teens do, he started smoking marijuana and drinking beer. He said he thought it was no big deal and around his small town he was well liked, he was popular, an A-student. He was 13 years old.
"Having the drugs, I had what everybody wanted so I started selling weed by the 8th grade," Ashton said.
Ashton says he got even more popular while the drugs he sold, and used, got more intense.
By his mid-teens Ashton was arrested for felony possession of a narcotic and it was a wake up call; a wake up call that Ashton didn't answer.
Instead, he went to the medicine cabinet.
"I found out I could do prescription pills and they are out of my system in 2-3 days so when I would take my urinalysis I'm clean," Ashton said of how he turned to prescription pills.
It was that day that Ashton joined the ranks of what drug enforcement officials call generation Rx.
"In the Twin Cities and nationwide we are seeing teens doing medicine cabinet shopping," Commander Paul Sommer of the Anoka County Sheriffs Department said.
Prescription drug abuse among teens and young adults is alive and well in Minnesota and across the country.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that 20 percent of high school students admit they have taken prescription drugs like OxyContin or Xanax for a high.
That is one in five teenagers.
Alissa can tell you a story about those kinds of pills and how a high can become the low.
"I had Percocet, Vicodin, Darvocet, Tylenol with codeine," Alissa admits.
Alissa wasn't a teenager when she started, she was in her 20's and she knew she had a handle on it, she said, after all she was a registered nurse.
"I had such a perfectionist view on life, I had obtained all of these things and goals in my life but inside my heart just ached. I had love around me but I didn't love myself," Alissa said when asked about why drugs became such an important part of her life.
Alissa's addiction brought her to the places many of these addictions do.
"I should be dead. I was on the road to dying," Alissa said.
Alissa is the girl society would take one look at and say, she has it all. But months ago, she overdosed on prescription drugs.
Alissa's nursing license was suspended because she did steal medications. Not from patients, she said, but from health care facilities. She said she did it despite a happy marriage to a childhood sweetheart and despite her only child Simon.
"I hated myself for who I was," Alissa said softly.
It's not all that unusual because addiction doesn't discriminate. Alissa knows that and drug enforcement authorities know it too.
"We see it in every social class, faction, every race and it is becoming more and more prevalent," Commander Sommer said.
And while the fact that one in five teens tryout prescription drugs for a high is scary, where that fact goes next for some is terrifying.
"It's a gateway drug. It opens the door for other things," Commander Sommer said of prescription drug abuse.
One of the most popular other "things" is heroin. Heroin is much cheaper, more accessible, and in Minnesota, it is nearly 60 percent pure. In other words it is so strong it can and is killing people.
"We are seeing, in Anoka county at least, an alarming trend toward heroin use," Commander Sommer said.
So far this year, 17 people have overdosed on heroin in Anoka county. This year is only 5 months old. Four people in the county have died in 2011 of a heroin overdose. The youngest was a 19-year-old girl.
To illustrate how much of an issue that is, Commander Sommer points out that in all of 2010 Anoka County had only 8 overdoses on heroin.
Sobering statistics to someone, who was once of them.
"Even now, a year sober, the thought of being high on heroin. It's hard for me to think I never get to feel that again," Ashton admitted from his room in rehab.
Ashton went from pot user, to drug dealer, to prescription drug addict, to heroin junkie. All by the time he was 17-years-old.
"All of my problems, if I blasted some heroin, it's like gone. I didn't care."
By his own estimate, Ashton's sale of drugs and use was well over a million dollars in street value. His laundry list of regrets are significant. Like when his mom was battling cancer in the hospital.
"The one time I went to see her I was high. The only reason I went to the hospital was to steal needles," Ashton admitted.
Or coping, now with the painful truth that he charmed other kids, as the cool drug dealer, into using.
"It's hard for me to look back now and know that I put the drug in front of the people who love me the most," Ashton said.
Regret is just a fact of life for the recovering addict. And again, the addict isn't all that different from the rest of us. So parents of every kid out there it is time to take notice.
"I think every parent needs to have that conversation with kids, and it has to be early, if you wait until high school you have waited far too long," Commander Sommer said.
Ashton and Alissa are both in the long-term recovery program at Minnesota Teen Challenge.
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)