Students at the Centennial Area Learning Center (CALC) heard three very different stories Feb. 6 from their peers about what led them to use or sell drugs. The talks were a part of Know the Truth (KTT), a substance use prevention program of Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

“We are not here to tell you what to do. As respectfully as possible: we don't care. We care about you guys as a whole and as individuals, so we are here to be a resource and want to help you if you want it,” said Anthony Pitaro, one of the presenters. “Other than that, we are not here to control you or tell you what to do. Hopefully, our stories will speak for themselves.”

Another presenter's story 

particularly struck close to home, as he grew up in the Circle Pines and Lino Lakes area.

Clinton Nicholson, 26, explained, “My whole life was a textbook that would lead me to addiction. I felt rejection, abandonment, (and that) no one really cared about me.”

On Nicholson's fifth birthday, his mother told him they were going to go buy some new tennis shoes for his birthday. He had no idea that for the next six months, he would be waiting for his mother to come back to get him.

As he grew up, Nicholson jumped around in the foster care system. At the age of 8, he started smoking weed. A year later he was adopted by a family in the Quad area. By the time he turned 13, smoking weed was a regular activity.

At the age of 14, Nicholson was habitually fighting with his family and made the decision to move out on his own. “I was so hurt by everything that had happened in my life, I refused to ask for help,” he said. “I turned to the one thing I knew how to do, and that was smoking weed. The only way I could support myself at 14 was to sell weed, so I went from smoking weed to selling weed, from being addicted to drugs to being addicted to selling drugs.”

Soon the weed turned into stronger drugs such as cocaine and opiates. A month after he turned 18, Nicholson was caught with 5.5 grams of cocaine and ended up spending six months in jail. When he got out, he said, “I did the only thing I knew how: I went right back into that life of selling and doing drugs.”

When he was 19, Nicholson had everything he wanted — or so he thought. One day when he left the house he was renting in Centerville to grab some pizza, a group of seven guys invaded his home, stole all of his drugs and money and beat up a couple of his buddies that were staying with him.

At the age of 20 he got caught selling again and spent two years in prison. After he was released, he went right back to his old ways.

By the age of 23, his addiction was getting worse and he found heroin. He got caught selling drugs and was sent to jail. The very next day, his sister overdosed. For six months, he was the main suspect in the third-degree murder case of his own sister, as the police thought he was the one who sold his sister the drugs. Although he was cleared of that charge six months later, the damage to his relationship with his family was irreparable.

A year later, Nicholson — caught with 10 grams of meth — was looking at eight years in prison. He was then given the opportunity to enroll in the Teen Challenge program. “I thought it could end up changing my life, and I didn't want my parents to have to bury another kid,” he explained.

Nicholson has now been sober for a year and is four months into the Teen Challenge program.

The presentations were sponsored by Know the Truth (KTT), a substance use prevention program of Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. Over the past 12 years, KTT has led over 12,000 presentations in over 160 schools and has connected with over 400,000 students. The presenters share stories of their personal struggles with addiction and provide information about the four most common gateway drugs used right now, which include vapes and e-cigarettes, prescription pills, marijuana and alcohol.

After the other two presenters shared their stories, students were able to ask questions and took an anonymous survey about drug use. KTT uses the survey results to better understand what is going on at schools throughout the state.


Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or

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