Saving Ryan: WUSA9 visits 21 year-old addict in treatment

11:35 PM, Nov 12, 2013   |    comments
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DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA (WUSA9)--Only on 9, we have a follow-up on one of our most talked about stories. Five months ago, reporter Andrea McCarren and photojournalist Joe Martin introduced us all to Ryan, a 21 year-old heroin junkie, who struggled with his addiction. Andrea and Joe recently headed to North Carolina, where Ryan is getting help. 

TROSA is a unique program in Durham, North Carolina and Ryan's 6th time in treatment. So far, it's his most successful. He's been clean now for 16 weeks-the longest period he's been drug and alcohol free since the age of 14. 

The last time we saw Ryan, hope was in painfully short supply. Living on the streets, even spending some desperate nights sleeping in a hospital maternity ward, Ryan's life had become a cycle of failed attempts at rehab.

One evening, just days after Ryan had been beaten, he had a black eye and was quickly losing weight. We dialed the number for TROSA and handed him the phone.

Today, Ryan looks like a different person. He arrives to our interview wearing a suit and tie, and a huge smile.

"I look like a whole different person," he said, watching the story we shot five months ago. "I was skinny and beat up. I didn't care about anything. I really didn't care. As you could see. I didn't care."

Despite an abscessed tooth that slightly swells his cheek, he says he feels 100% physically.

"There's definitely hope. For me, nobody thought I could get it right. After the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th time, they thought he's never going to stop," Ryan told us.

Mentally, it's still challenging but the program's structure helps.

"It's not just going to happen overnight, it's not going to happen by osmosis," he said.

Ryan works six days a week to earn his keep. Instilling a strong work ethic is a key value of the program.

"You have to want it," said Ryan. "There's no half wanting it, three-quarters wanting it, 99% wanting it. It's all or nothing."

Ryan's job is at TROSA's successful moving company-voted best in the area for several years running.

"Nothing just comes for free. You earn everything here, so it's rewarding to work hard," he said.

Ryan has gained at least 20 pounds and some much-needed confidence.

"It was just looking in the mirror and thinking that I'm a failure. That I can't get it right. What am I gonna do? And now, it's like, you stepped up."

We showed him our original story shot in June... and just how far he's come.

"That's crazy," Ryan told us, shaking his head and smiling.  

We also shared the extraordinary support Ryan has received from strangers around the world, following his story on social media.

"It's humbling. That's all I can say. I don't know what else to say. It blows me away."

Today, that elusive hope that seemed impossible just five months ago... is now abundant.

"I'm still in the process. It's far from being over. But it's starting to work."

Ryan is working hard, taking things one day at a time. He still has 21 months until he graduates. 

For more on the TROSA program and why it seems to work for so many addicts, check out their website at

Written by Andrea McCarren, WUSA9

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