A meteoric rise to fame brought Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino from training at a gym in central New Jersey in 2009 to a press tour in Australia in Feb. 2012. That's when he encountered a problem.
The “Jersey Shore” star had run out of his oxycodone prescription pain medication, which he had been taking for months following an injury. Unfortunately, he said, he wasn't able to get more on his trip.
Out of pills, he soon felt sick. It was like he had the flu, which he later learned was the first signs of withdrawal. He refused to get dressed or leave bed to attend a one-hour speaking engagement, which he had done countless times on previous promotional tours for "Jersey Shore" and "Dancing with the Stars."
“The frustration on my family’s face… the sadness... they were
upset,” Sorrentino, 31, recalled to CBS News. “I was like, 'wow, I did that.'”
After he “manned up” and made his appearance, Sorrentino says he boarded a plane to an inpatient rehab facility in Utah and began his journey to getting clean, something he still works at every day.
“This disease of addiction doesn’t discriminate," he said. “Just because I’m on TV doesn’t mean anything.”
Sorrentino is a spokesperson for Reset Reality, a campaign
to spread awareness and encourage people to get help for opioid prescription
addictions. The campaign is sponsored by Reckitt Benckiser, the manufacturer of
the addiction treatment Suboxone film, which Sorrentino says he takes daily along
with regular therapy.
Health officials in recent years have warned cases like Sorrentino’s represent a U.S. painkiller addiction epidemic. Drug overdose deaths have climbed in the U.S. for 11 consecutive years, with the majority blamed on prescription pills. Federal estimates show women alone have seen a 400 percent increase in prescription painkiller overdose death rates since 2009.
"We need to better understand how dangerous these drugs are," CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said last year. "They shouldn't be used lightly, (only) where they are essential, necessary, something like severe cancer pain, they are important tools. But all too often, the risks are way higher than the benefits because it may be a lifelong addiction."
Federal health agencies and doctors have increased their efforts to curb abuse by calling for more education for doctors and patients about the major addiction risk that can occur from taking prescription opioids.
Sorrentino rationalized his pill use by telling himself it
had been prescribed by a doctor. Plus, he was still in great shape, so the
addiction hadn’t taken a toll on his personal appearance.
But he needed to take the painkillers daily just to function. Slowly, he became a
recluse. His family knew something was wrong, but he was unapproachable.
Too many people don’t talk about addiction because they fear it, he explained, so he hopes by being honest with his fans, his story will resonate and lead others to get help or seek assistance for their loved ones.
"I could have lost everything," he said. “Maybe by me telling my story and letting people know the road I went down, maybe they won’t go down that road,” he said. Now, he said, “I’m back to being the Michael that smiles when he wakes up every day.”