Jerry Ortega’s father left when he was 15, and he dove into gang life, drowning his sorrow in drugs. Pretty soon, he was selling meth. And a move to Utah led to a heroin habit, led to consuming three grams a day.
“I turned into someone who has little regard for anyone or anything,” says Ortega, who spent more than a decade hooked on the hardest drugs known to man.
“It consumes you. Before it was over, I had allowed my ex-wife to begin selling herself as a prostitute,” he says. “We did whatever we had to to get heroin.”
Ortega tells of pushing away his mother, his once best friend, because he was ashamed of what he had become—a man who stole until he ran out of places to rob, a man who was arrested, jailed and overdosed twice in three days upon his release. A man who, Ortega realized, was either going to die using or end up in prison the rest of his life.
So when his child was taken away at birth by protective services, that was the end of it. He and his wife checked themselves into a rehab center. Today, seven months later, they have their baby back.
“Our son has never had to see us high,” Ortega says. “I don’t have to worry if we will have to sleep in an alley, or if we will have money for diapers that I take for heroin.”
“I got into drug prevention early in my recovery because I wanted to learn everything I could about my own addiction,” he says. “In the process, I decided that I wanted to share what I learned with others because nobody wants to be a junkie or an addict.”
That process coincided with Ortega’s discovery of Foundation for a Drug-Free World, one of the world’s largest nongovernmental drug education programs, supported by the Church of Scientology, that empowers youth and adults with the straight facts so they can make informed decisions to live drug-free.
It does so through a variety of hard-hitting audiovisual materials available for free online at drugfreeworld.org—booklets on every drug of choice containing drug street names, short and long-term effects and quotes from former users; Public Service Announcements for each such drug; and the award-winning Truth About Drugs: Real People, Real Stories documentary in which former addicts share their devastating personal accounts of life on everything from marijuana to methamphetamine.
Ortega ordered free materials and began delivering the program regularly to addicts at his rehab center, with his seminar growing more popular by the week.
“The materials are very up to date and keep the interest of all the people I share them with,” he says. “They don’t hold anything back.”
That’s why, Ortega says, even seasoned addicts learn something new from one time through a Truth About Drugs booklet.
But, knowing firsthand the havoc drugs wreak, Ortega is working to get the word out to those who have yet to make the fateful choice that could make or break their lives.
“I take the booklets everywhere I go,” he says. “Meth is what most kids start out with and they usually go to heroin. Heroin use is drastically rising in Kern County and so many kids die from overdose. If they know as much as they can before they make the decision to use, at least they have a fair chance.”
Ortega and a few pals distribute Truth About Drugs booklets every week, everywhere—on the bus, on the street, in stores.
Today, Ortega and his mother are best buds once again. He takes public speaking class at Bakersfield College, is training to become a minister and calls Drug Free World “a godsend.” Not just because it can save lives, but because he considers, on a daily basis, it is actually saving his.