Madison Friend and Jay Orser of the nonprofit Students Empowered to End Dependency, speak Friday at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford as part of the school’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Awareness Day. Both are in recovery from substance use disorders. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — Madison Friend and Jay Orser of Students Empowered to End Dependency spoke Friday with students at Mountain Valley High School about their recovery from substance abuse disorders.

The two have been sharing their experiences of drug and alcohol addiction at high schools throughout the state this past year, and were at the school for its Substance Abuse Prevention and Awareness Day.

The day’s agenda also included small group discussions among students and mental health leaders from area organizations such as the Larry Labonte Recovery Center, River Valley Healthy Community Coalition and River Valley Rising, all of Rumford.

Friend, a program manager for Students Empowered to End Dependency, or SEED, told students she is in recovery from addictions to various drugs, as is Orser.

In an email in response to questions from the Rumford Falls Times, she and Orser requested that the details of which drugs they were addicted to not be published “simply because the level of detail we share with students in an effort to empower them to make safe and healthy decisions is not a level of detail we wish to share with the public at large.”

During their presentation, Orser said he first started smoking marijuana when he was 13 years old and in the eighth grade. Friends of his with older siblings offered the drug to him and his friends, and he said, “And of course, I’m gonna say yeah; I want to be known as the cool eighth grader that’s doing this stuff with high schoolers.


“So, I started smoking weed and right after that first hit, I was like, this is my thing. This was created for me,” Orser said.

Friend said she started smoking marijuana at age 14 and “used (marijuana) because I had these feelings that I didn’t like. I didn’t like who I was, I didn’t like my situation at home. There were so many things that were so stressful and I didn’t know how to deal with them.

“And the first time I smoked weed when I was 14, all of those feelings went away,” Friend said.

As time passed, they each increased their daily marijuana habits and added alcohol and other drugs to their mix and found themselves trapped in the grip of addiction and unable to function without drugs, they both said.

Even after his arrest at 18 years old for operating under the influence, it wasn’t until a friend of Orser’s took her life and he spoke with his friend’s mother about her death that he decided he would go to rehab for alcohol and drug addiction.

“(My friend’s mother) came over and the one thing she said to me was, ‘If I could have done anything to save my baby girl and get her the help she needed, I would have done anything but now I get to see her sit on my mantle.’


“And I just lost it after that,” Orser said. “I looked at my mom and I’m like, what am I doing to my mom? Like my mom is taking photos of me in cop cars (being arrested) trying to teach me lessons and I’m showing up late at night and crashing my car, just doing all of this stuff and it wasn’t worth doing that to her. So, I thought about both of them, and I chose to go” to rehab.

Friend described an addiction to drugs and alcohol as “sneaky, and addiction sucks. I have these values as a person, you know, that are important to be. Like, I want to be a good daughter, I want to be honest, I want to be a hard worker, I want to contribute to the world in a positive way.

“And what addiction does very, very slowly is it makes you willing to give up things that are important to you and behave in ways that do not align with your values,” she said.

Friend said she found the decision to stop being an addict was much harder than she originally thought it would be. She encouraged any student with a substance use disorder to find a trustworthy adult such as a teacher, guidance counselor or friend and ask them for their help.

“Any substance that alters your ability to make good decisions is not safe,” Friend said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s green and you put it in a bowl and you smoke it or if it’s clear and you pour it into a glass and you drink it, or if it’s a powder that you heat up and inject into your veins. Like none of those things matter.

“Anything that alters your ability to stay true to yourself and makes it so that you can’t make good decisions is not safe for you,” she said.

“The fact is that programs like (SEED), that seek to engage students in real discussions about the lived experience of drug use and addiction,” as opposed to the tried-and-true Just Say No approach, are revolutionary, she said.

“Since beginning this work, we’ve engaged with students in over 30 schools across Maine, and we believe that student involvement is the key to lowering rates of substance use across the state,” Friend said.

To get help with substance use disorders contact knowyouroptions.maine and to learn more about the nonprofit SEED organization, or to watch their Voices of Hope recovery videos, go to

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