Youth and addiction: An epidemic many are afraid to talk about in the suburbs

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LEAWOOD, Kan. -- Some call it an epidemic in the metro's wealthiest county: young people abusing drugs and alcohol in Johnson County.

"It was what I did to be OK for a long time," said Sam, who asked that his last name not be used.

He started getting high when he was 13 years old.

"I took a prescription opioid, hydrocodone, that I got from the medicine cabinet in my house," he said.

He always compared himself to his peers growing up. He felt less than, and that led to deep self-hatred and insecurities.

The 24-year-old said all that went away when he was under the influence.

"I felt cool being the kid that had the drugs, that was drinking the most, and that became part of my identity," Sam said.

But his drug and alcohol use led him to abuse heroin -- that, too, would eventually not be good enough.

Sam

"It got bad enough that when I was sober, I would just cry, sick," he said. "We called it dope sick, withdrawing."

Sam's story was one of six told Thursday night at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, where the church's recovery ministry held an honest conversation about youth and addiction.

"It's an epidemic out there, and people don't want to talk about it," Tom Langhofer said. "And we're just trying to say, 'Hey, it's OK.'"

Langhofer is the pastor of the church's recovery ministry -- and also a recovering alcoholic. He believes drugs might be a bigger problem in the suburbs than in the city.

"It's more accessible. It's everywhere out here, and there's certainly money to buy it," he said. "It's just hidden here."

The Church of the Resurrection offers a number of classes for recovering addicts and their families. They said it's a safe place no matter your faith.

"Anybody's welcome," Langhofer said.

"Life is just so different," Sam said.

Sam is now two-and-a-half years into his recovery. He now gets to enjoy his hobbies.

"Fitness is huge for me, climbing, skateboarding, and it's just excelling at those things," he said.

He wants young people to know abusing drugs and alcohol is only an illusion -- it won't last.

"The idea is there is hope, that there is something better," he said.

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