Former addict speaks to GHS students through Angel Program

Police Chief Leonard Campanello with ex-addict Nicole, who spoke to GHS health classes on December 15.

Maria Kotob

Police Chief Leonard Campanello with ex-addict Nicole, who spoke to GHS health classes on December 15.


Drug addiction has taken over the lives of countless people across America, and Police Chief Leonard Campanello’s efforts in helping addicts are spanning past Gloucester. On December 15, the Angel Program and its nationwide influence was brought to the attention of GHS health students by Nicole, an ex-drug addict from Ohio.

“In high school, I never thought I would go from weed to heroin,” said Nicole. “One simple choice in high school changed my life.”

Nicole was born into addiction. Her birth parents have used drugs for the past 30 years and gave her up for adoption shortly after she was born. While her adoptive family gave her a stable childhood, she was often bullied and struggled in high school. When she did find a friend group that accepted her, she was sent down a spiraling path that would result in her addiction to heroin.

“It was the same people that I was smoking weed with in high school that became heroin addicts later,” said Nicole. “Your best friend in high school will end up getting high with you later.”

Nicole then became pregnant at 19. Although she was clean during the pregnancy, she entered an abusive relationship shortly after having her daughter and her situation worsened.

“I couldn’t handle what was going on. I had medications for it. This pill given to me by a doctor would change my life. I had never thought I’d be a heroin addict.”

After becoming addicted to pills and later cocaine, her dealer introduced her to heroin and her life would never be the same.

“I told myself I would never do heroin. I thought it was gross and only junkies did it, but every line I said I wouldn’t cross I crossed and any morals I had I threw out.”

In 2010, Nicole was caught trafficking heroin in a school zone. At this point, her family realized that she was doing drugs and her community turned on her.

Over the next several years, she spent 496 days in and out of jails and hospitals, used drugs at least 4 to 5 times every day, and was high for a total of 2,560 days.

“March 14, 2013 was my last day of use. I had a near death experience that day and there was a moment of clarity that I didn’t want to die. But you shouldn’t have to reach rock bottom to know you want to live.”

“Addiction changes the chemicals in your brain. People who aren’t educated about this decision say it’s a choice, but it’s not. It took facing death for me to stop. I was getting high against my own will and it was a vicious cycle.”

It took five years for Nicole to get off of probation, and even now she still does not have custody of her daughter. After getting clean, she tried to help another addict recover. However, the woman died before she could receive the help she needed.

“I didn’t want to help addicts. I was angry at them. But I saw what Campanello was doing and based a speech off it. After, I realized this was my mission. Why wasn’t this program started years ago?”

Nicole has spoken at 50 police departments in the past three months, but visiting GHS was her first time speaking at a high school.

“I want to direct awareness of issues caused by addiction and to bring real survivors in to share their experiences in hopes that it’ll help the students and keep them from falling into addictions, like Nicole did.” said health teacher Rosa Francis.

“The disease of addiction changed my perception of what I did and what I thought. 80 percent of addicts use together but 80 percent die alone. Only two percent of heroin addicts recover.” said Nicole.

The Angel Program has given people like Nicole the ability to help end the stigma of addiction across the country. PAARI, a regional and international organization that helps support addicts and fight addiction, has also inspired Nicole to stay clean and continue her work.

“I have a tattoo that covers my track marks that says ‘Know your worth.’ Just because I am a heroin addict does not mean that I am any less.”

“People have a choice that leads them to having no choice over the rest of their life.” said Police Chief Leonard Campanello.

“One simple choice in high school changed my life,” said Nicole. “Think about the choices you make and do it for yourself, not for anyone else.”