Not An Uncommon Story- Governor Christie State of the State
Phaedra Trethan, @CP_Phaedra
Published Jan. 19, 2017
CHERRY HILL – A.J. Solomon, while proud of his journey to sobriety and his plans for opening an addiction treatment facility, still feels “almost guilty” about being mentioned in Gov. Chris Christie’s final State of the State address last week.
“I mean, this is what you’re supposed to do: You’re supposed to get sober, stop being a liar and a cheater and a thief,” the 26-year-old said.
Christie, in a speech that centered on the opiate epidemic sweeping New Jersey and the nation, introduced Solomon to the public in a different manner:
“Who is A.J.?” Christie asked. “He is A.J. Solomon, the son of (Board of Public Utilities) Commissioner Dianne Solomon and Supreme Court Associate Justice (and former Camden County Prosecutor) Lee Solomon.”
His parents, Christie said, are “two extraordinary citizens” and “two extraordinary parents,” but still, their son’s story of addiction “is not an uncommon story; it just has an uncommon ending.”
That ending, Solomon said, could have been very different than the chapter he’s now entering, one in which he helps fellow addicts get sober and rebuild their lives. It’s a story, he said, that had nothing to do with his privileged childhood in Haddonfield, nor his high-profile parents or his job in the governor’s office.
“I have lots of friends who were privileged like me who are dead,” he said candidly at his office in Cherry Hill. “I have friends who had nothing who are dead, too.”
In his Jan. 10 speech, Christie noted that overdose deaths in New Jersey skyrocketed 22 percent between 2014 and 2015, with a 30 percent increase in heroin deaths. In 2015, the governor said, almost 1,600 people died from drug overdoses, far eclipsing the number of traffic fatalities and homicides in the state.
Sitting in a conference room on a recent afternoon, Solomon seems both embarrassed by the sudden attention he’s receiving and grateful for the platform it’s given him.
South Jersey advocates give mixed reaction to Christie speech “All this press I’m getting …” he began.
His path to addiction began not with his own prescription painkillers, but with his father’s: The elder Solomon was in a bicycling accident and was given OxyContin for the pain.
“He didn’t like the way they made him feel, so he didn’t really take them,” A.J. Solomon recalled. Then 19, he had already experimented with alcohol and Percocet, so stealing his father’s Oxys felt natural. “I could crush it and snort it, and when I did, I decided this was how I wanted the rest of my life to be.”
It was a “quick progression,” he said, from pills to heroin. By the age of 22 he was using “constantly,” to the point where he’d sometimes experience withdrawal symptoms while working in the governor’s office.
“My life was …,” he trailed off for a moment. “I was contemplating suicide.”
Still, outwardly all seemed well. He maintained his old friendships, kept his job (even though he was stopping to buy drugs each morning on his way to Trenton) and while his family believed he had some mental issues, they didn’t seem to know the reason.
A family friend’s chance encounter with him as he bought drugs in North Camden brought his drug problem to his parents’ attention. They immediately arranged to send him to a rehab facility in Florida.
It was there, however, while living in an unsupervised sober living house, that his drug use took an even darker turn: A girlfriend introduced him to intravenous drug use.
“Every time I did it, I would ask myself: Am I going to die?” he recalled. “I hated what I was. I thought my life was over, that I didn’t matter, that there was no getting better.” He was living in his car and in despair, but a concerned phone call from his mother sent him to another rehab, this time in Arizona.
“I showed up high as hell,” he remembered, physically miserable and psychologically spent. He prepared to commit suicide, but when he tried to plot an escape, he discovered his parents had canceled his credit cards — now he was financially spent, too.