Pubdate: Wed, 11 Jan 2017
Source: Herald News (West Paterson, NJ)
Copyright: 2017 North Jersey Media Group Inc.


Six months ago, AJ Solomon visited Gov. Chris Christie at the State House
to apologize for using heroin while a member of the governor's advance

[photo] Governor Chris Christie told the story of AJ Solomon, a recovering
heroin addict, to illustrate his focus on combating drug addiction in New
Jersey. Here, the Governor hugs Solomon as he exits after the
address.(Photo: Chris Pedota/

Six months ago, AJ Solomon visited Gov. Chris Christie at the State House
to apologize for what he felt was the ultimate betrayal -- using heroin
while a member of the governor's advance team in 2012 and 2013.

Solomon, now 26, had since gotten sober, and Christie invited him to share
his experience navigating drug recovery programs in New Jersey and
elsewhere. The pair talked for two hours.

On Tuesday, Solomon was again reunited with the governor, this time
looking on from the front row of the Assembly Chambers as Christie
delivered the State of the State address leading into his final year in
office. Solomon, the governor said, was the architect of new reforms he
was announcing to expand the number of sober living homes throughout the

"I was just trying not to cry," Solomon said after the address. "It was
humbling, for sure."

Christie's remarks were both a touching tribute to a man who had turned
his life around and a lucid illustration of how no family is immune to the
ravages of addiction. Solomon is the son of Board of Public Utilities
Commissioner Dianne Solomon and New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Lee

And although sober living homes played a small role in Christie's address
Tuesday, AJ's story -- together with those of two other families who had
lost a loved one to a drug overdose -- formed the emotional core of
Christie's argument that the state needs to step up its efforts to address
New Jersey's worsening drug epidemic and extend more compassion to those
caught up in it.

AJ began using opioid painkillers when he was 19, pilfering pills from a
prescription his dad had received following a serious bike injury. By the
time he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and landed a job with
the governor's office, he had switched to using heroin, which is cheaper,
and was a full-fledged addict.

As Christie described in his address Tuesday, AJ would often stop to buy
heroin in Camden, where his father then sat as a judge hearing criminal
cases, before heading into work in Trenton. Before long, he was out of
work and homeless.

"Can you imagine sitting up there every day knowing your son's living on
the streets and putting people in jail for the same things that your son
has gotten involved in?" Dianne Solomon said Tuesday of her husband.

AJ checked in and out of rehab programs. He relapsed over and over and
fantasized about killing himself.

Finally, in February 2014, he had what he described as a religious
epiphany while on an airport shuttle bus outside of Phoenix.

"I started praying and for the first time I felt like that obsession to
use leave," he said on Tuesday. "And I was like, all right, I'm going to
do this. I'm going to give it a shot."

Lucky for him, he was staying at a sober living home in Arizona that,
while receiving treatment elsewhere, helped recovering addicts adjust to
drug-free living by re-teaching them how to cook and look after
themselves. He checked out three months later and said he has been sober
ever since.

"In the beginning it's hard," Solomon said. "You have to learn how to live

Solomon also intends to open his own, privately funded treatment facility
called Victory Bay Recovery Center in Camden County on Feb. 1.

Despite the painful aspects of their story, Solomon and his parents were
all smiles after Christie's address Tuesday.

"It's a hard path that we've been traveling," Dianne Solomon said, "but
what you learn over time is, if you can help other families by telling
your story, then it's well worth being out there."

Lee Solomon said he couldn't comment on the address because of his
position, but did allow that his son is "a remarkable young man."

"I'm so proud of him," he said.
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