NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — They’re the poster girls of the opioid crisis, exposing their pasts in a series of anti-drug commercials.
On Wednesday, CBS2’s Ali Bauman had the opportunity to sit down with them and find out why they’re speaking so openly and freely about their fight with addiction.
“I got hurt and was given pain killers. I was addicted, but I got help,” Vanessa Vitolo said in an anti-drug spot.
“A slave to heroin. That was my life,” Mariel Hufnagel said in the spot.
Vitolo and Hufnagel are not actors.
“I was a homeless prostitute living on the streets,” Hufnagel said.
Looking back it’s still hard for her to accept the turn her life took.
“I had access to the best schools, you know, a great car, a beautiful home, love from my parents,” she said.
But by the time she was a teenager, things had gotten bad.
“I had a $1,500 a day drug habit,” she said.
It started, she said, when she began sneaking into her mom’s liquor cabinet.
The drinking lead to marijuana, which led to harder drugs, until she was completely consumed.
“I liken it to a normal person not having food. You would steal for food, maybe you would hurt someone for food,” she said.
“Nobody wants to grow up to be a heroin addict,” Vitolo added.
Vitolo also went to a good school.
“I was a cheerleader growing up, I went to college,” she said.
All it took was one opioid prescription.
“I actually remember taking them for the first time and my mind was telling me that I needed to take another one,” Vitolo said.
And then she found the cheaper alternative — heroin.
“My mom used to drive the streets of Atlantic City looking for me and like begging people to find me,” she said.
Both women ended up behind bars. It was a wake-up call they so desperately needed.
“My mom used to come visit me in jail,” Vitolo said. “She would tell me through the glass, ‘If I could take this away from you, I would,’ and that hurt.”
Recovery wasn’t easy, but it happened with the love and support of family, and the proper treatment — like that from Reach NJ which they now tout in a series of familiar ads.
Angelo Valente is with the Partnership For A Drug Free NJ.
“The campaign has been very effective because what it has done is shine a light on this issue, and it’s demonstrated that this is a particular disease that can impact anyone,” he said.
Being the face of the epidemic hasn’t been easy.
“A lot of people are really, really mean, especially like on social media,” Vitolo said.
Having already been through the fight of their life, if they can help just save one, it’s well worth it.
“I used to like ask God why that was happening to me, but now I know why I went through all that,” Vitolo said.
Both women now counsel people suffering from addiction.