Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jan 2017
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2017 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Andrew Seidman


(AP Photo/Mel Evans) Gov. Christie, holding hands with daughter Sarah
Christie, as wife Mary Pat Christie follows, leaves the Assembly chamber
of the Statehouse after he delivered his State Of The State address
Tuesday in Trenton.

TRENTON - When Haddonfield native AJ Solomon graduated from college in
2012, he landed a job with a longtime family friend: Gov. Christie.

But Solomon, who had abused painkillers and since become a heroin addict,
was spinning out of control, buying dope in Camden on his way to the
Statehouse. By 2014, he left an Arizona treatment center intent on flying
home, saying goodbye to his parents, and killing himself.

"I knew at that point what I was," he said. "I couldn't live with it."

His parents canceled his credit cards, throwing a wrench in his plan. So
Solomon dropped to his knees and, heeding the advice he'd been given at
the treatment center, began praying.

"For the first time, I felt . . . that obsession to go use leave," said
Solomon, the son of state Supreme Court Justice Lee Solomon and Dianne
Solomon, a commissioner on the Board of Public Utilities.

On Tuesday, Christie told AJ Solomon's story to an audience of hundreds
gathered for the governor's State of the State address in the Assembly
chamber here, as the governor made an emotional plea to tackle New
Jersey's drug epidemic.

Now 26 and three years sober, Solomon, who lives in Cherry Hill, is
president of Victory Bay Recovery Center, a long-term drug-treatment
facility set to open next month in Laurel Springs.

About six months ago, Solomon met with the Republican governor to make
amends for "the ways he felt he had disgraced the Office of the Governor
by his conduct and how he felt he had betrayed our friendship," Christie

Christie, who said he had attended Solomon's bar mitzvah, described him as
the "architect" of a plan the governor outlined Tuesday to expand access
to sober living homes.

"AJ's story is not an uncommon story; it just had an uncommon ending,"
Christie said, as AJ and his parents watched in the audience. "AJ can't
wait to see how the next chapters of his life unfold. Neither can I. I'm
confident neither can his mom or dad. We love you, AJ - and I am
thrilled," he said, before the crowd burst into applause.

Speaking with reporters after Christie's speech, AJ Solomon recalled how
he began drinking and using drugs around age 15. In 2009 his father, then
a Superior Court judge in Camden County, suffered a fractured skull from a
bicycle accident, and AJ, then 19, soon had access to painkillers.

Eventually, he was homeless and addicted to heroin.

"Can you imagine sitting up there every day knowing your son is living on
the streets, and putting people in jail for the same thing that your son
has gotten involved in?" Dianne Solomon said.

At the time, AJ Solomon said, he was mostly afraid of getting arrested and
bringing shame to his family and the governor's office.

Caught buying drugs by a family friend, Solomon ended up in a 28-day
recovery program. But he relapsed again and again, leading to his feeling
of despair in Arizona.

Solomon, who was raised Jewish but didn't consider himself particularly
religious, said he experienced something of an epiphany in February 2014.

"They told me, you might want to find something greater than yourself,
because you're not really doing much for your recovery," he told

He returned to rehab for three more months, began working there, and later
returned home to New Jersey.

After working at a recovery center here, Solomon is now ready to open his
own. Patients at the Laurel Springs center will be there four to five days
a week, five hours a day, Solomon said.

Then they will get part-time jobs and go to intensive outpatient treatment.

"What I really want is these guys to be living in a structured
environment," he said. "That's what the governor is working on, so they
can have staff supervision at the house, learn to cook for themselves,
clean for themselves. Because you forget all that stuff, using. I forgot."

Solomon said it can be difficult for addicts in New Jersey to be honest
with their employers or schools as they try to get sober, but he said
Christie's message Tuesday could help.

"There is still a lot of shaming in our community," Solomon said. "I still
am not that comfortable being open about the fact: I'm a heroin addict. I
did that. . . . It is stigmatized. By the governor doing that, it takes a
huge step in destigmatizing it."
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