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Heroin In Ocean County - One Family's Story

Patch file photo
Patch file photo
by Patricia A. Miller

Maureen Morella did not want to be on stage Thursday night at the Stafford Township Arts Center, at a drug forum talking about what heroin did to her family.

But she came anyway. She came at the insistence of her son Jesse. And she gave a powerful, thundering speech. She yelled. She was often near tears. She walked up and down the aisles.

The audience of hundreds was silent as she spoke. They gave her a standing ovation when she was done.

"I speak to you in a loud voice," she said. "I want your kids to hear my words. No drugs! No time for any reason! I will not let it happen to your child. Not on my watch!"

Jesse was 16 the night he went to a party at a friend's house.  That was the night that everything changed for the close-knit Morella family.

Jesse is 25 now. He is a quadraplegic, unable to talk except with a letter board. His nourishment comes from a feeding tube. He wears diapers and is totally dependent on his parents for everything.

Jesse had already confessed to his parents he had dabbled in marijuana before he went to his last party.

"Mom, it was pot...everybody smokes pot. I don't want you to be nervous about it," Jesse told his mother.

The Morellas were horrified. They put Jesse on "house arrest" for six weeks. After that, he was only allowed out one night a week with his friends. Maureen would drop him off, his father Taylor would pick him up.

Maureen even went so far as to have Jesse tested for drugs weeks after the marijuana confession. He tested negative.

Teenagers and young people today are desensitized and anesthetized to the dangers of drug abuse through movies, music and social media.

"But by God they won't be when I'm done," she said.

Maureen had called the parents where the party was to be earlier in the day. She was told there would be an adult party upstairs, the kids would be downstairs.

"I was assured there would be no alcohol, that it would be supervised and chaperoned. I told Jesse 'you can go but you can't spend the night.' "

The night life changed

They dropped him off at his friend's house. But sometime during the night, Jesse ended up with older kids, already out of high school, his mother said.

"Jesse snorted heroin with his friends in a beautiful house in a beautiful town with parents upstairs," Maureen said. "This is the face of heroin."

When his father brought him back home after the party, Jesse was sick, very sick.

"He said to me 'Mom, I went to the all-you-can-eat buffet. I'm really, really nauseous,' " she recalled.

She helped him to his bedroom, put a bucket next to his bed and said she'd be back to check on him soon.

"The last words I ever heard my son say were nine years ago," Morella said. "He said, 'Thanks, Mom. I appreciate it.' "

A short time later, the Morellas heard strange noises coming from Jesse's room.

Jesse had vomited, aspirated the vomit and stopped breathing.

"His eyes were fixed and gone into the next world," his mother said. "He was turning blue."

The paramedics told the Morellas that Jesse was gone.

"But they kept going and going," she said. "Until they had a heartbeat. He lived through the first night only because of the will of God. He has a new mission."

Jesse spent a year in Children's Specialized Hospital. The family lost their home due to mounting medical bills. The marriage nearly fell apart.

Morella walked up to the edge of the stage, looked at the 108 luminaria placed three deep, and pounded the stage several times.

"There are 108 candles up here," she shouted. "I can't bear it again. This is not for the faint of heart."

Jesse today

Today the young man who was such a promising artist is fed on an elevated slant board with a feeding tube. He has to spent time on the board each day, to help his organs function properly. It makes him nauseous. Sometimes he throws up while he's on the board.

Today he clumsily spells out words with his letter board. When his mother asked him once what he missed most about eating, Jesse - a true Jersey boy - spelled out "Taylor Ham sandwiches."

Today Jesse has little use of his limbs and spends most of his time in a wheelchair.

"But he understands everything," his mother said.

When Maureen didn't want to go to the drug forum Thursday night, her son spelled out a message.

"Mom, go out there and tell them my story. So that this never happens to another kid."

Maureen believes her son survived to serve as an example of what can happen when young people experiment with drugs. That is Jesse's mission.

"Jesse gave up his future," Maureen said. "He will not get another chance. He just gave you yours."

cathie climento December 14, 2013 at 02:05 AM
Thank you to the family for being strong to tell all the children what drugs will do to you
bill hall December 14, 2013 at 05:12 AM
This story should be posted in every classroom in every school throughout ocean county!
MILITANT ANTI-THEIST December 14, 2013 at 07:13 AM
I'm sure the paramedics who actually kept him alive are very appreciative that credit is given to "the will of god". You can pray all you want, if you take heroin... you are it's slave, nothing else will matter in your life, but heroin... nothing
Dina December 14, 2013 at 07:21 AM
Was this forum for everyone? I would of liked to take me kids... I so happy she is trying to make a difference God bless her and her family
Heather Senett- Barnfield December 14, 2013 at 08:19 AM
Jesse's Journey should be on youtube, but unfortunately its not ..or I just couldn't find it. She gives such an empowering gut wrenching speech ..I would love to have my children watch her over and over again and be educated about drugs by someone else beside me
BB December 14, 2013 at 08:28 AM
Any chance Maureen and Jesse are sharing their experience at another drug forum. This one I AM SURE will reach my kids....They hear it over and over again from the "authority". Like myself as a kid, in one ear, out the other-not me syndrome. THIS is the BEST way to reach them-does anyone know where she will be next?
Catsfin December 14, 2013 at 08:32 AM
Thank u Jesse and your family for sharing your story. We NEED more access to treatment in this county. My husband was was clean when I met him, married, had 2 kids, and we a goid life together. Unfortunately years later he went back to heroin. No matter how or why...when he decided to get better again, abd for him that meant methadone maintenance for sime time, we were treated like dirt. Dept if Health and hospital staff from Brick and Community Medical staff spoke to me like I was trash when I inquired about a place for treatment. We discovered finally, on our own, that there was ONE place that dispensed methadone (thank goodness we still had a car!), and that it wouldn't take insurance (you have to pay cash). That was acfew years ago. Maybe things have improved. Heroin has been a big problem here for years. Glad to hear we are acknowledging it now. Prevention and education is needed. BUT SO IS GOOD TREATMENT OPTIONS...for the ill person AND their families. What a devasting disease when someone gets hooked...and that is hat education shouldvfocus on, how easy it is to get hooked and how it affects the lives of all who live you
Catsfin December 14, 2013 at 08:32 AM
LOVE you, not live you
letsgetreal December 14, 2013 at 08:49 AM
Ok I agree the concept of the forum is great for the younger kids....but sadly what is missing are the ones who are already doing it and also the kids who have parents that are pathetic and do a poor job at raising them. Those kids are not present to see the presentation, hence....the most important target audience is not getting the message. Bottom line folks is until we take away the means (money) to buy the heroin (crack down HARD on shoplifting, fraud, and burglaries in the courts!!) then this will never end. Busting the drug dealer is a fantastic idea...but they are a dime a dozen and local and state law enforcement are under staffed and cannot combat the problems.
Project Bluebeam December 14, 2013 at 09:33 AM
Anyone who thinks pot is safe and doesn't lead to drug addiction and/or experimentation with stronger stuff like heroin needs to wake up.
Katherine Lockwood December 14, 2013 at 10:25 AM
Not that I support pot, but I do believe if it was held with same regard as alcohol and not associated with drugs it would not be a gateway to the hard stuff. A teenager uses pot "ah what's the big deal with this stuff, pills or coke are probably just as benign, right?". Once they try pot and have no ill affect they no longer believe the hype of what "drugs will do!" The fear factor is now lost and they find themselves as addicts. They need to be told by their parents if not the schools that there is a clear difference between smoking, drinking, using pot and their long term affects vs the outcomes of just trying the hard stuff even once!
Regina warren December 14, 2013 at 10:41 AM
Terrifically moving story. Kudos to Jesse and his mom for taking the time and effort to telling it. There but for something (the grace of god? luck?) go any of us. We can be the best parents we want, the kids can be as normal as others, but drugs can do this. Avoid at all cost. Easy to see in hindsight. Even without addiction - which by the way many say is a disease - one false move leads to these horrendous consequences. This family should be invited to every middle school, high school, and college assembly. Jesse - you DO have a new purpose in life.
rightwing December 14, 2013 at 11:11 AM
The increase in drug use and overdoses, is in direct correlation with the increase in permissiveness of marijuana use in our country. The facts are right in front of us, for those who will accept them without bias. Every drug user started with pot. That makes it the gateway. Mrs. Morella realized that when she grounded Jesse for smoking it. We have to do the right thing, not the easy thing. We can't condone what we know is wrong because it is easier, or will create revenue. Keeping marijuana illegal won't stop drug abuse, but telling our kids pot is OK, but other drugs are bad, is only making things worse.
Bricktown Lew December 14, 2013 at 12:05 PM
Just last night my nephew informed me of someone he knew that recently died of an overdose from trying heroin ONE TIME. These kids have to not only learn that dealers DO NOT CARE about them. Plus, these drugs are not in regulated "doses" or hits, and no one know what other hazardous materials are used to cut an already dangerous mixture of chemicals. Unfortunately, it's a sign of the times. These youngsters are kids of parents who are the first generation of parents that overall haven't done better than their own parents. Now that's not everyone, but many. We are in a state of depression. Kids aren't kids anymore. It's nothing politics will ever solve. It's a huge social issue of the deteriorating family unit. Internet misuse, depression and undiagnosed mental/physical conditions, bad choices in friends, bad decisions, and plain and simple, the biggest thing...NO HOPE. The solution? Run to drugs. Only God can resolve the serious issues in this world. No one else with ever be able to resolve anything. Sad state of the world period.
grace December 14, 2013 at 01:17 PM
@bricktown lew its so damn sad...thank you mrs morella and my god bless you
ER RN December 14, 2013 at 01:51 PM
Great story , I hope it is eye-opening to many . I wish local governments would participate in a "scared straight" type of program. Go to th ER Watch someone go threw withdrawl vomit shit and have agonizing pain. And seizures , see pictures of what it looks like when your hep c turns to cancer and you die bleeding out your mouth and anus, watch us struggle to get iv access when you abuse your veins and we can't get a line, so we drill a large needle in you're leg. As an other Er nurses wrote hear the screaming anguish and feel the pain when a parent losses a child . See them Mrsa ridden and abcessss everywhere even on the spinal cord cause ing paralysis, see a young 36 year 6 ft. Tall 95 lbs confused emaciated from aids dementia and opportunistic infections like a yeast infection on your tongue. Let's not forget about Aids people massive increase in iv drug use =increase in HIV. # mandatory HIV testing
Bricktown Lew December 14, 2013 at 02:14 PM
@Grace, yes it is. As a caregiver and as an uncle who has spent years of sleepless nights praying and worrying my nephews, its a very hard, scary, and sad world we are in. I also keep the families ad young ones in my prayers as well.
grace December 14, 2013 at 03:19 PM
@ . are you kidding me, leave that woman alone..she punished him drug tested him etc.in my book she was on top of her son as much as she could be...just imagine how sad she is ..dont be cruel thanks
1stcav December 14, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Give it a break, YOU were a kid once and an angel in front of your parents, not so much so when out of their sight. Peer pressure and grades are a weight some can't handle , this leads to other avenues of pleasure and insurance that your not a failure. Choice of friends. choice of where you hang out and there friends , who then turn you on and some choose the wrong road , and then it grabs them !! I don't care what values your family gave you , all is forgotten when high and strung out on drugs. You will denounce Jesus for the devil for that next fix , and steal from anyone close to you...Drugs are bad news for everyone ! \
Bricktown Lew December 14, 2013 at 03:52 PM
@1stcav, if your would see it from the emergency services and first responder side, then you would see that kids do much crazier things nowadays in general than kids back in generations past. Much more garbage and trouble available today.
barbara December 14, 2013 at 08:00 PM
So sad......the schools, especially the middle schools, should have assemblies showing what this can do to them. You can be a great parent and educate your children, but you can't watch them 24 hours a day. One day, they just might make a bad choice. This is a horrible epidemic, unfortunately, there will be more gone. Prayers for all...........
Bob December 14, 2013 at 08:43 PM
@Bricktown Lew- what does seeing it from emergency services and the first responders side have to do with it? I am an ER nurse. I am also a parent who lost a child to heroine. He was an athlete and class president & well liked. Numerous people who went to high school with him came to me at his services say my son was the bright spot that helped them make it through high school, going out of his way to get them to smile say hello or include them in an activity. So to @letsgetreal, I say you are wrong when you say the ones who need it (the assembly by Jesse's mom) wouldn't be there. My son would have been there assisting in some way if this had been held at his school. Maybe he would have felt something during the presentation that would have helped him make a different decision when he went off to college. He went to a mini ivy. He had to work hard for his grades and we didn't hand out money to him as another poster mentioned. These kids aren't injecting this stuff, they are snorting it. And it's cheap! The marihuana the kids today are exposed to is laced with all kinds of stuff. I have seen High school students who have had a break with reality and have been committed because of the crap lacing the joint. Marihuana, I believe is one gateway to harder drugs, another is prescription drugs. Growing up I knew people who smoked pot. I didn't know anyone who used harder drugs. Today it is different. I think the majority of kids do know someone who has used harder drugs, so it doesn't seem so far fetched and scary to them. They see numerous examples around them in school everyday who have used drugs and are fine. They need to see the poor outcomes too so they don't think "we adults" are just giving them lip service.
Cherrie Mooney December 15, 2013 at 02:33 AM
God Bless this family for having the courage to stand up to drugs & make a difference. I lost my son James one year ago to an overdose of a cocktail of drugs. My intention was/is to do something like Maureen & Jesse are doing. Unfortunately, my story did not end with my son's death & shamefully I have not been able to get moving on my project! Teens and Adults MUST be Educated on this important & horrific disease. Believe me that I can relate with Maureen & know she tried to handle the drug issue with her son. My husband & I did the same thing..Punished, dragged him to the hospital for drug testing (which he passed), got him clean and sober a few times & finally told him he could not live our home while taking drugs, without a job. He choose to leave and within weeks, he died in a hotel room of "Drug and Alcohol Intoxication"! Although most of those days after he passed away are blank to me, I know that it was the worst time in our lives. The pain is still very real & somedays I wake up thinking it was all a dream. I miss my son. I miss his laugh, his smile, his silly jokes...I miss my son! I know in my heart that we did everthing we could to get him healthy but I still think, What If! God Bless this family for having the courage to try to reach others before it is too late. One day soon, I hope that I will have the strength to join them in their project! Kids, young adults, even older adults...Drugs is not the answer to your problems! Now, if any of the nay sayers want to do battle with me, please feel free to write and I will answer your questions.
Smot Revir December 15, 2013 at 07:18 AM
@ Rightwing, what an idiotic statement to make about marijuana. Where do you get your facts from ? There are people with a predisposition to addiction, and would move on to other drugs regardless of what drugs they started with. Do some research. And for those of you who think having assemblies to show the evils of drug use will work, WAKE UP ! Do you all forget what it was like being a teenager ?
Smot Revir December 15, 2013 at 07:22 AM
And by the way, 2 of the most addicting "gateway'" drugs are alcohol, and tobacco !
Judith Paige December 15, 2013 at 08:12 AM
Thank you Cherrie... We are dealing with this in our family and I hold my breath everyday.. So scared, grew up with family addiction, never thought it would start again ..... I hate drugs and when I see a story like Jesse's and I read what heartbreak you and your family have endured I feel so frustrated. These kids think nothing will happen to them and some parents think their kid would never ever take drugs.. I am a grandmother, and I have atteneded Steered Straight at Lacey High to just see what exactly is going on in our townships and I am shocked to see how rampant this is with the kids!!! I thank Maureen for sharing her story and I commend Jesse for telling his mom to get out there and tell it!!!!!! I pray every day my family member means it when he says he wants help and wants to start over clean and sober.. May God Bless all of you.. Praying everyday thekids will get the message.. Thanks to the Police for the work they are doing trying to fight this epidemic......
Katherine Lockwood December 15, 2013 at 10:06 AM
ER nurse I agree with you on the visual reality factor. Thanks for doing what you do everyday. Cherrie Jim was a great guy I graduated highschool with him and spent years in the same circles with him. The prescription pill problem is out of control for many people I went to school with and unfortunately many have lost their lives already as a result. With more strict regulation of these prescriptions I'm hoping that trend will begin to decline. One of my best friends from highschool at one point had 6 docs prescribing to him simultaneously. He thank god is finally having a successful recovery and I pray that everyone who is suffering as a result of this will find the strength and will to overcome it. I believe this forum is an excellent start along with the OC task force I just want to see the local.municipalities adopting the no tolerance attitude, get the dealers out of our neighborhoods!
john December 15, 2013 at 09:01 PM
It is a shame that these kids dont think before they do...they see the videos,hear the stories and see the aftermath of what drugs do...and they seem to think it wont happen to them. I give this mom and any other parents a ton of credit for surviving this terrible thing that they go through. And to all the people who say smoking pot and drinking leads to using heavy drugs...you are so wrong. Both of those are completely different highs then coke or heroin. Stoners and drunks dont do hard drugs. peer pressure and weak minded people do hard drugs. and to all the people/parents who are praying.....praying does nothing..instead of wasting your time praying,get involved in helping these kids and spending more time with them. if prayer did anything we wouldnt be having these problems.
Cherrie Mooney December 15, 2013 at 09:18 PM
Thanks Katherine. I did know that you went to school with Jim & you were all friends. He was lucky to have so many good people who stayed in his corner even though they knew he had serious problems. To all who read this blog, its never too young or too old to deal with a problem of this magnitude. It is an epidemic & Katherine is right...many people who are hooked on Rx Drugs, also Dr. shop & have a list of physicians who will prescribe for them. With the new programs Drs. use, it will be much more difficult to get these drugs. Problem is, these people who can no longer get what they need will go to another drug, usually Heroin which is more easily available & much cheaper for them. They also are able to get rid of the many Drs. who prescribe to them which saves them money on visits to multiple Drs. Soon Heroin will be the drug of choice for all people who have addictive personalities. It will all start slowly...Drs. will refuse to see these "patients" & one by one they will be dropped leaving an addict no options but to buy off the streets. I pray for all our sakes that somehow these kids can be reached & receive the proper treatment for this disease. I don't want to see one more family go through what my family has gone through the past year. We lost our beautiful son who was full of life, funny as funny could be, had a heart of gold and was loved by all who knew him. He managed to hide his addiction from many but in the end, he basically died alone! We will miss him forever & the pain will never go away. Other families cannot be forced to go through this tourment! WE MUST FIND A WAY TO REACH THEM AND STOP THEM FROM KILLING THEMSELVES AND US!
Hi my name is...Rain Man December 16, 2013 at 04:53 AM
This whole marijuana is a gateway drug idea is bullshit. Of course you're gonna try marijuana first but that doesn't mean every marijuana user does heroin. I know plenty of people that smoke weed and they are clearly aware that heroin is bad. The percentage of people that have done heroin compared to the people that have ever smoked is probably 1% to about 70%. Also I don't care what anyone says marijuana is also not physically addictive. One isn't going to go withdrawals but it can be mentally addictive. You know what also can be mentally addictive? Watching TV, eating. etc and I also guarantee that 95% of you people have drank underage before and it has been proven that alcohol is worse than marijuana and tobacco is also worse.


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