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A Bittersweet Graduation: An Ocean County, N.J. Family Dealing With Heroin Abuse

For the Capone family, one son is graduating and onto college, while another died this week of a heroin overdose

Garrett Capone (Family Photo)
Garrett Capone (Family Photo)
Candace Capone will be at Lacey High School in New Jersey Friday night, cheering on her son, Garrett, who is graduating with plans to head to college this fall.

Then, she will continue planning funeral services for her 19-year-old son, Michael.

Michael, who would have turned 20 in August, died Tuesday of a heroin overdose after years of battling addiction. Candace fought hard as well, doing everything she could to try to get her son to quit.

She didn't talk about it too much, for fear she would face the brutality of the name calling and hopeless stereotypes that are often hurled at parents like her.

There's "scumbag," "white trash," and an endless supply of others, she said. And apparently, the name calling doesn't even stop after an addict is dead.

"A few days ago, someone wrote on my son’s Facebook wall, ‘You’re a junkie and you got what you deserved,'" she said on Friday, a day after she sat down at her computer and wrote an article for Patch about her son, and how he became the latest, young Ocean County resident to have his life cut short after becoming addicted to heroin.

Now, she says, she wants to share her story and encourage others to talk about addiction – something she was afraid to do while her son was still alive.

"Every single family has the same, exact story and nobody wants to admit it or talk about it because we’re called 'scumbags,' " she said. "I’m afraid to tell people because they think birds of a feather flock together."

For Michael, it started with marijuana. Later he turned to Oxycodone pills. Then came heroin.

"It's only five dollars a bag," Candace said, cheaper than illicitly obtained prescription drugs.

But those who know addiction know the Capone family was, and is, like many others – a typical middle class family, until the rug is swept out from under them.

Michael was a star wrestler who loved fishing and skateboarding. He did well in school and had plenty of friends and family members who loved him. Even after he was addicted to heroin and being sought by the police, people were able to see the kind person he was below the surface.

"The police found him and he was hungry after not eating for days," Candace said. "They said he was such a nice kid that they took him to lunch before arresting him."

The Lacey community was supportive, too.

"Lacey High School’s counseling department has been incredible to my son and I, and so has the police department and the Ocean County prosecutor," she said. "They did everything they could to save my son’s life. They all went out of their way."

Lacey police officers were always respectful, professional and helpful, Candace said. The prosecutor's office helped make arrangements to place Michael in rehab, but he escaped and fled for days before the police found him.

With Garrett Capone graduating Friday night, Candace has some hope. The high school's guidance department not only tried to help Michael, but helped Garrett tremendously and guided him away from his brother's path.

He now has a job working for a Stafford Township police officer who runs a small video game business on the side and considers the officer his hero.

Garrett will be attending Ocean County College in the fall and hopes to become a police officer himself.

"Without [Lacey High School's] counseling of Garrett, he would not be graduating today," his mother said.

"Tonight, it’s going to be about Garrett, and that’s what we’re focusing on," said Candace.

Then, after all is said and done, family members will look back on happier times with Michael, before the drugs took over. The kid who smiled at catching a big fish, and even through the fog of drugs, still had the occasion to charm those he met.

"That was Michael," Candace said.
Dame Bridgid June 25, 2014 at 04:52 PM
My children told me about the students no one will report or remove from our public schools who do drug deals in the school bathrooms. The ones who offer kids as young as elementary school age free samples to get high on. Kids really do not think past that high. They get talked into it the same way my generation got talked into smoking cigarettes. Remember when the kids who smoked were"cool"? I guess it was just too long ago when you were young, so you forgot about the effect of peer pressure, frank booth.
rhonda nixon June 29, 2014 at 06:02 PM
anonymous Our hearts go out to the Capone family. We have a 22 year old son that has sadly become addicted to heroin over the last 2 years. It is a gripping drug that does not know any socio economic boundaries. And addiction can and does start with marijuana. We also have sought help and have received wonderful counseling both in private settings and through our public schools. Heroin destroys precious children and takes its toil on siblings, other family members, and friends. We pray for everyone in the Capone family as there will be a void that can never be filled. We pray for strength and healing for Candace, Garrett, and all whom were touched by Michael's brief life. There has to be more done to stop all this drug traffic that is all over America. Future generations right here in America are at risk.
JMAR July 02, 2014 at 05:32 PM
Just about everyone I went to school with used Marijuana, and many to this day. They don't use heroin because they chose not to try it in the first place. Although a small percentage went on to use heroin and destroy their lives it was for a multitude of different reasons, including some mentioned here. Addiction starts with a conscious choice, marijuana makes an easy scape goat but the reality is that millions upon millions of Americans use MJ responsibly and never turn to harder drugs. I've always known where to draw the line, but for some it is easier than others. It is about education and information, and teaching children to set limits early on. Even then, sometimes nothing can be done. But as soon as we start to focus on passing the blame to some other innocuous substance we miss the point. Heroin and marijuana are both illegal and have been since everyone here has been born. It does nothing to ban a substance as evidenced by our drug war. The only way is to take drugs out of the hands of criminals. The word gateway drug was invented for marijuana, even though alcohol is used just as widely and many times leads to direct addiction to alcohol. There is no drug that has a specific pharmacology that causes users to try others. This is a conscience choice and we need to teach our children that drugs are DIFFERENT and while they may like to smoke a joint or drink alcohol, it does not mean that the drugs "one tier up" are in the same class. If we liken cannabis to heroin and teach our children that, they try weed and say well hey, this isnt so bad, nothing like I was told, so the other stuff must be OK too. It is our refusal to teach children the differences between drugs and their potential for addiction and harm - ALONG WITH many other factors that are completely beyond anyone's control except the person who makes the decision to use that cause this. This story is tragic and my heart goes out to the family, I am sure your son was a magical person, who was stripped of his shine by a ruthless drug, my only attempt here is to shed light on the MJ reference, not to detract from the meaning or importance of this mother's message.

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