ALLENDALE, Mich. (WZZM) - According to a recent study on drug abuse, since the year 1990, the number of individuals who take prescription drugs illegally is believed to have risen by over 500%. The study went on to say that 95% of untreated addicts die of their addiction.
One local student-athlete's addiction took him from a promising football career to the brink of death. It's a story about a rise, a fall and a miraculous cure.
The young man's name is Alton Voss and he was born in Michigan in 1988. He would soon leave Michigan for the state of Florida, where he could call home during his formative years. Florida was also the state where Alton would eventually make a name for himself and become one of the most intensely-recruited high school quarterbacks in the country.
In 2006, his senior year at New Port Richey Gulf High School, which is near Tampa, his tight grip on the football helped him develop into what "Rivals.com" considered one of the 25 best prep quarterbacks in the nation, and third best in the state of Florida. But soon after, the only grip Alton came to know was the one that substance abuse and addiction had on his life.
"To be the third best quarterback in the state of Florida was a real honor," Voss said. "I could throw the ball 73 yards."
As his high school career took off, Alton's mailbox became flooded with recruiting letters from some colleges all over the country, including some of the highest-profile programs, including the University of Florida, Miami University. Alabama, West Virginia and North Carolina State.
"By the time I graduated, I had four shoe boxes filled [with letters]," said Voss.
He eventually signed a letter of intent and accepted a full-ride scholarship to play at the University of South Florida.
"I felt like it would be a smooth transition for me to go there and step in and be the starting quarterback," added Voss.
But that never happened.
Alton Voss never played at South Florida because something bigger than football had begun to consume his life.
"I felt like I was doing okay," said Voss. "I had committed to South Florida, high school was over and things were good. I didn't think trying a pill was going to potentially ruin my life."
Then he chose to try that pill a few more times and eventually became addicted.
Alton felt that he could contribute immediately at South Florida, but the program decided to red shirt him. It was at that moment Voss began to shift his focus from football to drugs.
"I think that's where my heart started to break," Voss said, discussing being redshirted by USF. "It was just too much in the beginning and I just couldn't handle it."
Voss says he began to binge heavily on alcohol and prescription pills OxyContin and Oxycodone.
"All of the anguish and pain that I was going through emotionally all disappeared," said Voss, describing how he felt when taking the drugs. "I could not see I was killing myself."
Voss' addiction became so strong that he says he started using his USF scholarship money to support his drug habit.
Alton Voss went from scoring on the football field, to focusing most of his daily attention on "making a score". He would eventually quit the South Florida football team and choose a life of addition and desperation.
"My friend showed me how to manipulate an MRI report," Voss said. "My friend laid me on the ground, positioned his hand underneath my back and told me I had to hold that position [for an extended period of time]. When Alton would go to the doctor, he said the MRI report would reveal he had five bulging discs in his back. His doctor would prescribe him 120 OxyContin and 240 Oxycodone pills.
"Every 28 days, I would go to the doctor [to get more prescription pills]," said Voss. "This went on for the next two or three years."
Eventually, Alton Voss the drug user became Alton Voss the drug dealer.
"I was selling to anybody," added Voss.
His addiction would eventually lead him to a near-death experience. Voss purchased some cocaine and decided to go into his bedroom closet and shoot it up. He tied a belt around his arm and grabbed a syringe.
"I missed my veins maybe six or seven times," Voss said, describing the moments while he was trying to inject the cocaine. "There was blood running down my arm, all over my clothes and onto the carpet."
"Immediately I felt the high, but a couple seconds later, I felt my chest pounding," added Voss. "I felt like I was going to die of a heart attack."
"I started thinking of my family and what if I had just overdosed and was going to die, and [my family] would walk in the next morning and see my corpse there with all my trophies behind me," Voss said.
Alton survived the near overdose and eventually decided to leave Florida for Holland, Michigan to visit a close friend. It was in Holland where Alton Voss would hit rock-bottom. His drug addiction continued to spiral out of control and would eventually lead to a hallucination that would change his life forever.
"I had this intuition that I was going to win the lottery, so I went jogging one day and came upon a store," Voss said, describing his drug-induced hallucination. "There was a guy in the parking lot on his cell phone. He walked away from his car. It was still running, so I thought it made sense for me to take his car."
Voss stole the car and took off for what amounted to a 10-15 minute "joyride" around Holland.
He would eventually pull into North Holland Cemetery where his hallucination would give way to reality. Alton's high was wearing off and he was realizing what he had done.
"I got out of the car and walked up to a tombstone, and it just felt it was right for me to pray to God," Voss said. "This was the first time in my life that I had every prayed. I didn't know what to say, but I knew to ask for forgiveness and for a direction."
"God answered my prayer and gave me a solution," Voss added.
Little did Alton know that his "solution" would be delivered to him almost immediately after his prayer.
"It was a late afternoon call," said Joe Slenk, who is a Holland Police officer. "They were requesting Holland City's K-9 Unit to respond [to a stolen vehicle call]."
Slenk would apprehend Voss at the corner of Butternut and James Streets in Holland.
"I got out of my vehicle, pointed my weapon at him and ordered him to get down on the ground," said Slenk. "I told him he was under arrest."
"At that moment he could have shot me, but he didn't" said Voss. Alton would spend a week in the Ottawa County Jail.
"I was in isolation," said Voss. "No one knew where I was; the people I was staying with [in Holland] didn't know; my family in Florida didn't even know I was in Michigan, let alone in jail."
Voss was appointed an attorney, who serendipitously was covering for another colleague who was having surgery that day.
"I got the charges reduced to a misdemeanor, credit for time served, out the door and the next morning [Alton] was heading back to Florida," said Jane Patterson, who was Alton's appointed legal counsel. Some time had passed, but Patterson couldn't stop thinking about Alton.
"I felt compelled for some reason to send him a letter," Patterson said. "After that, he and I started talking every day."
Along with being a lawyer, Patterson happened to also be on the board of directors for the "Ross Poel Organization", which is a Grand Rapids-based, non-profit organization which helps people overcome life threatening addictions. The organization will sponsor selected individuals in need of treatment that otherwise man not be able to afford their entire treatment through insurance.
"I told Alton there was this place in Argentina where I really think he should go," added Patterson. "I truly believed at that point that if I didn't do something, Alton would have ended up in prison or dead."
"I didn't even have to think twice," said Alton about going to Argentina for addiction treatment.
RPO would sponsor Alton and he left for Buenos Aires, Argentina in the spring of 2011. He would spend the next two years at a facility called "CMI Abasto", which boasts a 100% cure rate for addictions. CMI Abasto offers patients a treatment plan tailored specifically to their individual needs, and through a combination of traditional medicine and practical philosophy, help cure addiction.
"[CMI Abasto] gave me the 'why', or 'whys' I used drugs," said Voss. "I was able to learn that in one week."
According to Voss, CMI Abasto taught him theories and techniques, and an intense investigation of himself.
"I didn't think a cure was possible," added Voss. "I realized that my addiction to drugs and alcohol were symptoms of something greater."
Soon after arriving in Argentina, Joe Slenk, his arresting officer from Holland, reached out to him in Argentina.
"I googled Alton Voss on the internet," Slenk said. "As soon as some pictures and videos popped up, I immediately started to think that I had arrested that kid."
The two exchanged emails and almost immediately a friendship was born, so much so that Slenk wanted to travel to Argentina and visit Alton.
"There was just this pull that I needed to look into [Alton] further," Slenk said. "I wondered what happened in his life that caused him to go down this path. It snowballed into a great friendship."
Slenk would travel with Jane Patterson a few times to South America to visit Alton during his two-year rehabilitation program.
In early 2012, Alton's life changed again. The sport he lived for, and would eventually leave for a life of addiction, found him. Matt Mitchell, the head football coach of Grand Valley State University, started reaching out to Alton in Argentina.
"I met with several people and got his back-story," said Mitchell. "I bet there was monthly phone conversations when he was in Argentina. We extended an invitation to him, pending his admission to Grand Valley, to become a part of our football team."
Alton accepted the invitation and spent the remaining year of his treatment knowing that upon his release, a second chance at a football career awaited him.
"I was training in Argentina for the two years I was there just to be ready for this moment," said Voss.
Alton's two-year Argentina treatment wrapped up in June 2013. He immediately flew back to West Michigan, where his new beginning was waiting for him.
He'd need a place to live until the on-campus housing opened at Grand Valley for the new school year. His arresting officer had a solution.
"He's replaced me at home," Slenk said jokingly. "He's living with my folks."
Even Alton couldn't believe the irony.
"Everyone gets a kick out of it, and I still do to this day," Alton said, regarding his living arrangement.
Grand Valley football practice began in August.
"How much will he contribute in 2013? We have to get the pads on him and find out," said coach Mitchell. "We're going to start him out at tight end."
The quarterback's spiral is no longer out of control. Alton Voss' spiral is once again rising - just like it did back at New Port Richey High School seven years ago when he was piling up the touchdown passes. He says he hasn't even entertained the idea of wanting to use drugs again.
"Joe and I talked about this; it had to be us in this journey for Alton Voss," said Jane Patterson. "it had to be Joe that arrested him, because Joe was going to pay attention; it had to be me [as his legal counsel] because I was going to pay attention. We participated in this journey, but I keep wanting to point back and give credit where it's due - Alton did the work!"
"This is just the beginning," said Voss. "It's just stage one."