2016-09-13 / Front Page

‘I didn’t know how to stop’

Former BMX racer lauds substance abuse prevention
By ALAN BENNETT
Staff Writer


Former professional BMX racer and recovering opiate addict Tony Hoffman speaks with Democratic state Sen. Susan Deschambault at an event hosted by the Biddeford-Saco Rotary Club on Monday, during which he detailed his struggle with addiction. 
ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune Former professional BMX racer and recovering opiate addict Tony Hoffman speaks with Democratic state Sen. Susan Deschambault at an event hosted by the Biddeford-Saco Rotary Club on Monday, during which he detailed his struggle with addiction. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune BIDDEFORD — “One time, that’s it,” former professional BMX racer Tony Hoffman recalled about his first time smoking marijuana, as he spoke to several Biddeford Middle School students and their parents Monday night.

Sponsored by the Biddeford Saco Rotary Club’s Red Ribbon Committee, the event was intended to educate the community about substance abuse and addiction.

For two hours, Hoffman, a recovering addict who abused prescription opiates and heroin, discussed his experiences with drugs and alcohol during his young adult years and into his twenties.

The presentation was the culmination of a day spent talking with students from Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach middle and high schools to highlight the pains of addiction and teach the importance of prevention.

For Hoffman, it was important to speak with both children and their parents to foster discussion between all age groups.

“It’s pretty important to hit all spectrums, because youth is like the prevention piece,” Hoffman said. “With the adults it’s, ‘Hey, addiction is alive, we’re experiencing epidemic proportions with heroin abuse, and there’s a lot of changes in the way we see things and we do things.’

“And then, if your son or daughter is struggling with addiction, there’s hope.”

The event was not well-attended, but those who came out were given the opportunity to see local substance abuse prevention efforts firsthand.

“It’s disturbing to me tonight to see how few people are in this audience,” said Jim Godbout, co-chair of the Rotary Club. “Nobody’s standing up to fight drug abuse. The Biddeford Saco Rotary Club are.”

“I want you to leave with this one thought: we need social recovery,” Godbout continued. “Social recovery starts with connections, making purpose, and love and care for every individual you meet. Start it there.”

Hoffman, 32, of Clovis, California, traveled the country racing BMX bicycles when he was in high school. In 2001, he graced the cover of a popular BMX magazine.

But when the promise of a job after graduation didn’t land, he began drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and partying with friends. In 2003, he began using the prescription opioid OxyContin, or oxycodone, to get high with his friends.

“Looking back, we had no idea how stupid we were,” Hoffman said about their continued use of the drug, day after day, several times each day. “We didn’t realize we were becoming heroin addicts.”

In 2004, Hoffman committed armed robbery to steal prescription drugs from his friend’s mother, making off with $15,000 worth of oxycodone.

“Three years prior to that, I was on the cover of a magazine,” he said. “Three years after trying marijuana, I was inside a home with a gun, committing my first robbery.”

Hoffman was offered the chance to become sober following his arrest, but violated his probation by overdosing, and was given prison time in 2007.

“I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know how to stop,” he said.

Hoffman was released in 2010. He now focuses his efforts on speaking to youths to promote drug abstinence and advocate for increased treatment options.

He also runs a nonprofit organization, The Freewheel Project. Founded in 2012, the organization is devoted to educating kids on the importance of leading drug-free lives by connecting them to BMX and other action sports.

“There’s nothing greater for me personally than giving back to the community,” Hoffman said, noting that the organization has raised $100,000 each year for the past four years.

Hoffman called for more widespread programs to aid those who are victims of substance abuse. Prevention is an important step, he said, but the road to recovery can’t be ignored.

“I think the prevention has its piece, and it’s always going to have its piece, and it’s not going to catch everybody. You’re always going to have the need for actual treatment for people who slip through and miss the nets of prevention,” he said before his presentation began. “Does treatment start at prevention? Absolutely, but it doesn’t end there.”

In a question-and-answer session following his talk, Hoffman decried recreational marijuana use, calling it a “slippery slope” to harder drug use; criticized use of Suboxone and methadone as methods to taper those in recovery off their addictions; and blamed the current heroin epidemic on an over-prescription of opiate painkillers.

When asked what he would say to his former self – the person he was before he began to use drugs – Hoffman said he would tell himself to not be afraid of failure, but to embrace it, grow from it and not use drugs to cope with the fear of it.

“Failure is a part of everybody’s life. It’s how we learn to live with it and go through it. Same with feeling depressed or ashamed,” he said. “If I could go back and tell myself, ‘It’s OK: you don’t need to use drugs or drink to make those feelings go away, just ride it out and learn how to manage these things.’”

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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