Some say it’s tough to get needed treatment
Brittany Vitullo’s heroin addiction got pretty bad.
The 20-year-old resorted to stealing wedding rings, thousands of dollars from her family, and her mother’s business credit card to feed her drug habit.
Vitullo got hooked on heroin two years ago, after dating a drug dealer. She said that the first time using heroin, she thought she was snorting cocaine. It didn’t take long before she was seeking out the drug, however.
“It grabs you,” said Vitullo, of the Erma section of Lower Township.
Vitullo snorted heroin for about three weeks, but when that wasn’t enough, she injected the drug.
“I don’t know — I just fell in love with the feeling,” said Vitullo.
According to Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor, heroin is now the top drug in the county. Commonly a white or brown powder, the drug is derived from opium poppies and is highly addictive.
Vitullo overdosed several times, she said. She was pregnant when she first tried the drug, and had another child while an addict.
“It’s just a powerful drug,” said Vitullo during an interview Monday at the Lower Township library in Villas.
Vitullo remembers she would often get drugs in Wildwood and bring them back to Lower Township.
She would shoot up heroin a few days a week.
In August, she left a home in Wildwood because others living at the residence were going to kick her out if she did not get them heroin, too. Vitullo decided to quit. She started staying with a family friend, Diane Pannelli of Erma, whom she has known for about 13 years and calls her Aunt Didi.
“You don’t have to be family to help,” Pannelli said.
Vitullo’s journey to recovery was just beginning.
On her 27th day without heroin, Vitullo, along with Pannelli, came to a forum hosted by the county government called "Putting a Face on Addiction.” (See related story.)
Several people, including those representing agencies, spoke at the event at the Cape May County administration building in Middle Township intended to fight addiction and foster recovery.
Pannelli has tried to get Vitullo help. She said she was frustrated at the lack of assistance she received from some of the agencies in the county.
At Cape Counseling in Middle Township, she said Vitullo would have to wait to be evaluated until October. Vitullo had missed too many therapy sessions at the county-funded counseling center before she was drug-free. That meant Vitullo would not be on the priority list for help, Pannelli said.
At Addiction Recovery Systems, also in Middle Township, Vitullo needed an identification card and $30 a day, three days a week, according to Pannelli. She did not have ID, or enough money, she said.
Attempts to get Vitullo into rehab failed, too, Pannelli said.
“It’s a never ending battle,” Pannelli said.
At the county drug addiction forum on Thursday night, Pannelli slammed agencies, saying that the assistance she received was appalling.
At the end of the program on Thursday, some people offered to help Vitullo.
Cape Assist of Wildwood offered rental and parenting assistance. The agency is dedicated to preventing and treating substance abuse and related issues in Cape May County.
An employee at the Lower Cape May Regional School District said she would help Vitullo with schooling. Vitullo does not have a high school diploma, so she would have to go for her GED test.
“The road to recovery should be a straight path,” Pannelli said.
After Thursday’s county drug addiction and recovery addiction forum, things may start to get better.
Pannelli said she is helping to keep Vitullo from relapsing, by keeping her off the streets.
“Heroin is changing everybody that I’ve known,” she said.
In fact, the drug dealers she knows are spending time in jail.
She said she knew about 20 of the numerous people recently arrested in Wildwood. The month-long undercover investigation came after residents complained about open air drug distribution and anonymous tips were also received. According to police, 98 charges were filed.
Pannelli credits Wildwood police for stepping up and tackling the drug problem. The Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office cooperated with the Wildwood police on the investigation.
But enforcement will only do so much, she indicated. Addicts need help getting clean.
“It’s not going to stop before it’s easier for addicts to obtain help,” Pannelli said.
Pannelli said Vitullo’s two children aren’t enough to keep Vitullo motivated and off the drug.
“I can only love her so much,” Pannelli said. “She has got to do this on her own.”
On that day when Vitullo chose to stop using heroin, she and Pannelli saw a rainbow.
“I told her that was ours — that was our rainbow,” Pannelli said.
The rainbow symbolized that there is hope, Pannelli said.
Maybe, after Thursday’s county forum on drug addiction and recovery, there finally will be some for Vitullo.
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