Former Denver Broncos wide receiver and Trenton native Vance Johnson had this to say about his addiction, alcoholism and abusing his body: “You don’t have enough film, brother. We’re going to be talking all night.”
He did so at Christ Church in Rockaway Township in a hold-nothing-back speech starting the abuse and violence he witnessed as a child.
The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office and partners hosted the opioid outreach program at the request of the state attorney general. They hoped Johnson – with his Super Bowl rings – would deliver a message that resonates. The Broncos drafted Johnson in 1985.
“The newspapers say, ‘Broncos add Vance.’ The happiest day of my life,” Johnson recalled, “A million people got this newspaper. So this day, I’m 21, almost 22 years old. I never drank, never did drugs, anything. I hated the thought of what drugs and alcohol did.”
But Johnson began taking opioids to cope with pro football’s injuries. When his fumble cost his team a game, he was introduced to alcohol: tequila.
“And so then when I added those to the alcohol, I was able to actually cope with all different types of things, and it felt good. It felt normal to me. And I was still competing at a real high level,” he said.
Johnson soon felt invincible. Driving at 140 miles an hour, he was pulled over, recognized and let go. Crashing his car another day while high and drinking, then with the hospital’s help, hidden away from the cops.
“Why don’t we push you down by the morgue where the dead people are,” he remembers staff asking.
Johnson said the addiction and alcoholism went on for years, with failed suicide attempts, several marriages and – five years ago at the age of 50 – a 28-day induced coma.
“Everyone was saying their goodbyes. They said, ‘He’s going to live, but he’s probably going to die soon because everything is starting to shut down inside of his body,'” Johnson said.
Today, on his eighth marriage, Johnson spreads his message through his company, Vince Inspires, and the Florida-based Futures Recovery Healthcare.
“It’s all about getting out and inspiring people that hope is possible and change is there,” he said.
Chief Assistant Prosecutor Bradford Seabury gave startling statistics about the prevalence of opioids and heroin in Morris County and even the numbers on overdose deaths: 80 last year, 40 the first six months of this year.
“This is clearly the leading cause of what I call preventable death,” he said.
Seabury laid out the facts in graphics and in graphic details: a 20-something, pregnant woman’s 40 packet a day heroin habit, where the arrests and seizures taking place and the ease of buying.
“You can buy right here in Rockaway. You can buy in Morristown. Just like you order a pizza, you can have your heroin delivered,” he said.
Several providers say help is available and accessible, but Daytop New Jersey CEO Jim Curtin said there’s a barrier to treatment and recovery.
“Not enough doctors that are educated, that can prescribe the medications that we know affect the brain in a way that will stop cravings,” Curtin said.
The summit left an impression about addiction on 14-year-old Connor Doyle.
“Just, like, how much it destroys your life,” he said.
“I wanted him to see firsthand just how powerful this can be,” said Connor’s father, Mark Doyle, “How deadly it can be and how important it is to never even get curious and never even try it.”