I had nothing left in my emotional tank as I robotically entered the SIXTH and final bank. I stared blankly ahead as I stood in line with a note in my hand that said $100s, $50s and $20s. Stay calm, no alarms, I have a gun, stay calm. The teller, a young girl, her lip quivering with fear handed me the money and I walked out. I could say that my arrest 20 minutes later, with my face planted on a busy highway during rush hour, was the one thing that really changed my life forever, but that wouldn’t be accurate. 

Let me put this in perspective. I used to be a Justice Department prosecutor, a Marine Corps captain, a dad, a son, and a brother. But I hit a brick wall head-on. I lost everything. I had become a full-fledged heroin addict. I was ultimately locked-up in a Federal prison for nearly six grueling years. How did this happen, you ask?  The demon: Prescription drug abuse. If you didn’t know, this is the latest trend fueling the record rise in heroin addiction across America. Deaths from heroin-related overdoses nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. 

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This is a wake-up call, America. We must act now!  Please join me in calling on Washington and those running for the presidency to address this epidemic. Voters are entitled to answers, but the silence from our elected officials is deafening. We, as American citizens, must apply pressure to President Obama and the presidential candidates, to address this growing crisis. Clearly stated, no one state, town or community is immune to this epidemic:

  • In Obama’s backyard of Chicago, 74 recent overdose deaths occurred over a span of three days.
  • Gov. Chris Christie’s state of New Jersey is infamous for heroin abuse and overdoses—tripling the national average—and the problem isn’t isolated to major cities.
  • Jeb Bush’s Florida is an absolute mess as well, as is middle America and the middle class, both suffering in record numbers.
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa saw 44 heroin overdoses in less than a year’s time.
  • And get this, in New Hampshire, the first presidential primary state, there were 320 victims of drug overdoses this year alone. And the list goes on and on. 

Honestly, recounting my story of addiction is like reliving a nightmare. But for an opportunity to save just one life, if not more, I will share with you the very worst time in my life.

Before I joined the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. as a prosecutor, I was an active duty Marine Corps officer, where I injured my back during a training exercise. I had no choice but to endure the pain and complete my tour with the Marines. That’s when I came face to face with the devil. However, in this case, the devil came in the form of strong opioids, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, a small pill that was legally prescribed by my physician to “treat” my back pain.

Like millions of Americans using these types of drugs, I didn’t realize that I was already on the highway to “addiction” Hell and there was no turning back. Everything cratered when my opioid supply ran out.  I turned to a much cheaper and more dangerous alternative – HERION. I was robbing banks to feed my habit. I was thrown in a federal prison and lost visitation rights to my children.  I was at death’s door both mentally and physically.

The CDC reported that there were 16,235 deaths involving prescription opioid deaths in 2013. Heroin use has more than doubled among women and young adult’s ages 18 to 25 and it has more than doubled among non-Hispanic whites. It’s crippling both the middle-class and Middle America. 

Democratic front runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFBI’s top lawyer believed Hillary Clinton should face charges, but was talked out of it Harris adds key Clinton aide, women of color to 2020 campaign: report Democrats more likely Trump's foil, than to foil Trump MORE, Christie and Carly Fiorina have briefly addressed the crisis. Fiorina has also lived this nightmare, as she discussed the loss of her step-daughter, who died from drug and alcohol abuse. BUT, the candidates must do more. 

My plan of action:

  • We need more federal funding and smarter initiatives directed to opening more detox facilities, long-term in-patient care, and out-patient rehabilitation.
  • Pressure must be put on insurance companies who have a financial incentive to limit treatment to save their costs versus helping addicts get the long-term treatment they need.
  • More resources need to be pumped into early prevention and education, targeting our younger and most vulnerable. And that’s just the beginning. 

This epidemic touches all of our lives directly or indirectly, whether we’re rich or poor, city dwellers or country folk, blue collar or white collar. A wise man once told me, “Heroin doesn’t read resumes.” I can attest to that. I implore you to speak up at that next Presidential town hall. Insist on being heard. Help me wake up our presidential candidates to this major epidemic before you’re mourning the loss of one of your neighbors, one of your family members or God-forbid - one of your children.  It’s time to act. 

McKenna is the author of the memoir Sheer Madness: From Federal Prosecutor to Federal Prisoner. He travels the country speaking about the perils of prescription drug use and abuse and shares his story of hope and redemption. Web:andrewjamesmckenna.com