A Profile In Courage

When WilmU student Amanda Potopchuk speaks to students as part of an Opiate Awareness program, she starts by telling them that no one wants to be a drug addict. Then she tells them how she became one.

amandapThe child of a loving, middle-class family from Williamstown, N.J., Potopchuk says, “My parents were ignorant of the dangers of painkillers.”

As a teenager, she became addicted to prescription drugs and attended her prom and high school graduation under the influence. When doctors would no longer prescribe painkillers, she turned to heroin. At 20, estranged from her family and deep into the drug scene, her wake-up call came when a fellow user died of an overdose.

Following treatment, she relapsed on her 21st birthday and ended up in a psychiatric hospital because treatment programs for addictions were scarce. “I lost a portion of my young adulthood,” Potopchuk says. Her childhood friends moved on with their lives but she didn’t even know how to write a check. “I didn’t know who the president was,” she says. “I was in my own bubble and completely unaware of the world.”

After completing treatment, she worked at a camp for persons with developmental disabilities. It turned out to be the boost she needed to get her life on course. “They took a chance on me and it paid off,” she says. She knew that education was the key to advancement and took courses for six years to earn an associate degree.

“In our society,” she says, “we want instant gratification but there is value in the small things — getting my first A on a paper and getting on the dean’s list were major accomplishments.”

As she was earning her bachelor’s in Psychology — online at Wilmington University — she found an accepting and supportive environment. As a current student in WilmU’s Administration of Human Services graduate program, Potopchuk shares her experiences with classmates. She encourages constructive conversations about substance abuse because, she says, “Shame and stigma are killing people.” She feels that faculty understand working students and students who have life challenges, like being in recovery.

“It’s important to surround yourself with people who can help you get better,” she says, adding that she plans to graduate with her master’s in January.

Potopchuk works as a career counselor with young adults, many of whom have substance use and abuse histories. “Never doubt what you can do in life,” she tells her students. “There’s no reason you can’t achieve your goals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Addiction is a lifelong disease, so remain vigilant.”

As a community volunteer, she advocates for a national prescription monitoring system to address prescription drug abuse and addiction. Recently appointed to the Gloucester County (N.J.) Addictions Task Force, she continues to carry a message of hope. “Take the first small step,” she says. “I never thought in a million years I’d be where I am today.” WU

—Lori Sitler