'What keeps me clean': One man's journey from addiction to recovery

For Jason Krone, the memory of taking his children to a soup kitchen — himself dope sick and them thirsty — helps keep him motivated.

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Recovering heroin addict Jason Krone reflects on his experiences during an interview at Life's Beacon in York City, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

On a hot, sunny day in August, Jason Krone was cooking chili with his son J.J. 

As J.J. stirred the large aluminum stock pot bubbling with beans and onions, Krone ran to grab chuck steak from his refrigerator. The pair cracked open cans of Sprite as they prepared Krone's famous recipe for the rest of his crew — fellow housemates living at Life's Beacon Foundation.

It was one of many activities the pair did together that summer weekend, including watching movies, fixing up Krone's car, playing the video game "Call of Duty" and going to church.

To 13-year-old J.J., it was a fun weekend with Dad.

Recovering addict Jason Krone holds a photograph of he and four of his children, taken at Cherry Lane Park in 2020, as he shares his story in his apartment at Life's Beacon in York City, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Krone and his former wife lost custody of their four children in early 2021. Now, four years clean from drugs and two and a half years sober, Krone says he is focusing on his recovery and living a life that his children can be a part of. Dawn J. Sagert photo

But for Krone, it marked a momentous step in their relationship — his first sleepover with his son in years. 

“(J.J.) told me last night, ‘Dad, this is the first time we’ve actually been under the same roof overnight in two years,” Krone recalled. “It was hard for him to sleep last night, where he kept looking over and seeing me there.”

Krone suffered as a heroin addict and alcoholic for 15 years.

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During that time, he faced felony charges for theft and drugs, lost custody of his four children and broke up with his wife. 

And it wasn't just heroin usage that rocked Krone's family. Alcohol abuse became a substitute for drugs. While Krone attempted to hide his addiction from his children, the aftermath was impossible to bury.

Money for food ran out. Utilities were repeatedly shut off. Monthly rent payments became impossible.

"(J.J.) took care of me a couple of times when I was intoxicated," Krone said. "And that's part of the reason why I share my journey with him. Disease of addiction doesn't discriminate." 

Krone's breakup with his wife of 15 years was extremely painful.

"There were thoughts of suicide," Krone said. "I knew I needed to be somewhere safe."

Enter Life's Beacon Foundation.

The York City-based nonprofit provides space for men in recovery to gain life skills in a structured, safe setting. With weekly therapy sessions, men living at Life's Beacon Foundation build skills in financial management, obtaining employment and restoring human dignity.

Living at Life's Beacon also means helping those seeking a second chance — like Krone, who has been a resident for two years.

"We have a lot of guys that are coming out of jail or coming out of rehab," Krone said. "And people like myself that are just looking for a new way of life."

‘I wouldn’t have gotten this far if I wouldn’t have stayed honest about what’s happened in my life,” said Jason Krone as he talks about furnishing the room he stands in for his son at his new home in North York Borough, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

With Post-It notes scribbled with goals stuck to his dresser and photos of his family on display, Krone is constantly reminded of where he wants his future to be: reunited with his kids.

Like millions of Americans, Krone started his struggle with opioids with a doctor’s note.

“I had become very reliant. I didn't realize what addiction was,” Krone said. “Once the medication was pulled from me, I started seeking pills on the streets. Somebody had introduced me to heroin. It was cheaper — it was stronger.”

In 2019, an estimated 10 million people 12 or older misused opioids originally prescribed by a doctor, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

More specifically, 9.7 million people misused prescription pain relievers and 745,000 people used heroin, department records show.

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The COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for a sharp increase in opioid misuse — specifically for overdose deaths, according to Dr. Trey Causey, chief medical officer for Crossroads Treatment Centers.

"Opioids are medications prescribed for pain — and there unfortunately is a lot of untreated pain in our society," Causey said. "Eventually, a certain percentage of people are not only going to misuse what's prescribed, but they're going to turn to the streets."

On a local level, York County reported a record 185 drug overdoses in 2020, according to the York County Coroner's Office.

Usage is much trickier to calculate because individuals are reluctant to share their drug habits. Nonetheless, opioid use in York County remains an ongoing issue, with one of the highest rates of overdose deaths per 100,000 residents, according to York City Bureau of Health Director Dr. Matt Howie.

Jason Krone uses Post-it notes to remind him of his goals he's working toward. Photo courtesy of Jason Krone.

In the field, York County is considered a "recovery town" — with a robust recovery community to boot. A network of recovery facilities means more chances for York County residents and visitors to reclaim their lives.

"Addiction is a chronic and — at times — relapsing disease," Howie said. "That's not a moral failing, that's just a reality of addiction. And you relapse in the area you're living."

Crossroads, which opened a new location in York County in August, specializes in a medical treatment to help with withdrawal symptoms and prevent opioid cravings. Vivitrol, for example, is a blocker of opioids that helps keep people from using opioids — though not necessarily treating the withdrawal, Causey said.

Howie agreed that medication-assisted programs are one of the most effective ways of treating opioid use disorder.

Recovering heroin addict Jason Krone, front, cooks a pot of chili with his 13-year-old son, Jeffrey "J.J." Krone to share with the household at Life's Beacon in York City, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Life's Beacon is a structured home for men in recovery that provides a space for learning life skills. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The evidence-based science behind medication-assisted treatments saves lives. The stigmas associated with it, however, are a detriment.

"People think they're not 'clean' if on medication-assisted treatments, but that's not true," Howie said. “If someone has diabetes, I don't call them a failure for having to use insulin."

At Crossroads, patients are encouraged to stay on medication treatment for at least a year — though some may need to be on it longer and a few are encouraged to stay on the medication for the rest of their lives.

Krone, meanwhile, became sober without a specific medication-assisted treatment plan.

"It was painful. It gets to your joints, your stomach — your psyche," Krone said. "I really had to stay away from people, places and things. Stuff like people shaking the sugar packets for their coffee would remind me of shaking a dope packet."

Years later, Krone said, it can still be difficult to be around friends or family who might challenge his control.

"It's really just about choices, knowing that I can either be right back to where I was," Krone added. "You know, lose everything I just got."

Howie said he believes overcoming addiction benefits from equal access for all.

Jeffrey "J.J." Krone, 13, left, and his father Jason Krone, 46,  on the porch at Life's Beacon in York City, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Jason lost custody of J.J. and his three other children in early 2021, and is now focusing on his recovery and trying to live a life that his children can be part of. Dawn J. Sagert photo

He urges any primary care physician to apply for an "x waiver" — a special certification that allows doctors to prescribe the medication-assisted drug buprenorphine. 

Howie, who went through the necessary training to receive the certification himself, said that when individuals need to get into treatment, there’s a timed window for having access.

He added that local institutions, such as York County Prison, have started implementing medication-assisted treatment plans.

“People can mend relationships — be involved with their children’s lives. They can hold down a job, and on a good day they may be coaching your kid's sport team,” Howie said. "It's treatment, and when done effectively is safe and allows people to get their lives back."

And that's Krone's No. 1 priority now.

The most important thing for Krone is spending one-on-one time with his children — which wasn't always possible.

Jeffrey "J.J." Krone, 13, left, and his father Jason Krone, at Life's Beacon in York City, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. The duo spent time cooking, working on the car and played video games together during their first overnight visit in about two years. Dawn J. Sagert photo

His four kids have been in the York County Children and Youth Services system for two years. His youngest, 8-year-old Chase, has since been adopted.

Krone's only daughter, 15-year-old Ireland, is with a foster family in East York.

J.J. resides with a foster family in New Holland. His twin, Ethan, is currently at George Junior Republic — an inpatient facility program near Pittsburgh — to help manage anger, depression and anxiety.

Ethan in particular had a difficult time coping with his parents' drug use, Krone said.

"He was suicidal at one point," he added. "So this is trying to just get him through a treatment."

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At first, Krone was cut off from communication at the request of his children — due to arguments during his relationship with his ex that affected the kids' mental health.

As part of their visits now, Krone makes it a priority to show J.J. all of the influential people who are now part of Krone's life. During their weekend sleepover, the pair grabbed dinner with Krone's sponsor. 

He's also making an effort to engage with his children's interests. Ethan loves animals, so Krone took him and J.J. on a trip to visit the giraffes and zebras at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

Many recovering addicts like Krone face many roadblocks. His goal of having his children back in his custody, for example, was hindered by his housing.

"Now that I am positively on the path of a better future for myself and my children, I feel it's time for me to move to a new home," Krone said, back in June. "I have never met so many challenges. I've gone so far as to explain my history and goals only to be denied over and over again."

J.J. (left), Ethan (center) and Jason Krone (right) take a photo while visiting the Pittsburgh Zoo in August. Photo courtesy of Jason Krone.

High rent and fees for credit checks are the tip of the iceberg. Poor credit and a history of evictions are following Krone. 

While living at Life's Beacon, paying rent of $140 weekly and continuing to work a construction job full time, Krone has been shackled by his past for more than a year.

But not all stories end with heartbreak.

After months of applications and rejections, Krone left Life's Beacon Foundation in late September for a place of his own.

Nestled in a home on a quiet street lined with tall houses in North York, Krone proudly displayed his newly bought furniture, bed and television that he can call his own.

Jeffrey "J.J." Krone, 13, left, and his father Jason Krone pose together for photos outside of Jason's apartment at Life's Beacon in York City, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. After losing custody of his four children in early 2021, Jason, is in his second year of living at Life's Beacon, which is a structured home for men in recovery that provides a space for learning life skills. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Although he has moved out of Life's Beacon, he still will attend weekly meetings and social visits with the men he's grown to know like his own family. On Sept. 29, Krone had a court appearance with York County Children, Youth and Families.

The meeting was to discuss custody for Ethan.

Krone's new apartment only has two bedrooms — one for him and another for Ethan. Though Krone would ideally like all of his children living under one roof, he knows that's not a possibility right now.

His daughter, for instance, preferred having split custody and visitation between her foster parents and Krone. J.J. is in a better place mentally to continue living with his foster family in Lancaster.

"I don't need (Ethan) to jump into a foster home, and then his emotions start going back downhill or be hospitalized again," Krone said, adding that eventually he hopes his credit score improves to afford an even bigger place for both of the twins.

There's a mantra from the Serenity Prayer that Krone often repeats: Accept the things you cannot change, courage to change the things I can.

In all the years Krone was addicted to heroin, he never found joy in the high.

He was broke. Hungover. Hungry.

He lost his children.

While the feeling of drugs was "normal" to him, it was a feeling that he never found happiness in. It's not a place he ever wants to be again.

"It's the middle of summer, 92 degrees out at 12 o'clock, and we're going to go eat at Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen. And I'm dope sick, and meanwhile my kids are thirsty. I can't even afford a bottle of water. That's my vision of where my drug addiction was," Krone said. "Now I don't worry one bit."

Krone said he needed to remember a powerful, painful memory strong enough to make him feel sick to his stomach.

"I remember that day. It was horrible. It was so hard," he said. "That's what keeps me clean."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.