Tim Rader, 39, grew up in Ashland, a town in rural Pennsylvania with a population nearly identical to Towanda's.

He was popular, on the honor roll, quarterback of the varsity high school football team, and the lead in school plays.

Years later, he became a homeless drug addict, and one day, when no drugs were at hand to feed his habit, he contemplated shooting himself with a gun he held in his hand.

He didn't pull the trigger, but instead began his road to recovery.

Today, Rader makes a living traveling around the country talking to students and others about the problem of addiction, and on Wednesday, Rader addressed an assembly of the entire student body of Towanda Junior/Senior High School.

Rader said he feels a need to talk to students about his experiences and issues related to drug addiction. "I have to" talk about it, he told the assembly.

He said he first began using painkillers after he was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of his senior year of high school. He had to have an operation, and was put on chemotherapy, which caused his hair to fall out.

Cancer patients are in a lot of pain, he said, adding that the painkillers that doctors prescribed for him not only killed the pain, but took away for a short while his fear that other people would make fun of him for losing his hair.

Rader said he always wanted everybody to like him, and was petrified that someone would make fun of him behind his back.

Rader beat his cancer, and he went on to college, where he drank and used drugs recreationally. He told himself that he would give up drinking and drugs when he graduated and got a job.

When he graduated, he did stop drinking and using drugs for a year and a half, which he said made him feel like he was immune to any problem with those substances.

He moved to Manhattan, where he had wanted to live, became engaged to the woman he loved, and got a dream job working for a pharmaceutical company, he said.

Things changed one day, though, when he took samples of drugs his company had manufactured to a physician, in the hopes that the doctor would buy them. While he was in the doctor's office, he walked into an area where the doctor kept his medications, and saw many boxes of the very same painkiller that he had been prescribed when he had cancer.

He put all the boxes of painkillers in his bag of samples.

"It was like somebody else's arm" had grabbed the boxes of painkillers, he said. "It was like somebody else took control (of me). I started taking them all."

He said he woke up one day after he had finished taking the painkillers, with pain shooting through his body. He looked in the mirror, saw that his eyes were sunken into his head and that his lips were purple, and he realized that he was going through drug withdrawal.

His drug addiction continued.

"I started breaking my value system," he said. "I started stealing because I had to (to feed his drug habit)."

He also began taking heroin.

On the day that he and his fiancee were going to meet the priest who was going to marry them, his fiancee found him lying in a pool of blood in his bathroom.

"I had OD'd, and a vein had ruptured in my arm," Rader said.

He said he woke up in a hospital, with his fiancee's engagement ring in a velvet box on a table in his hospital room.

"I lost everything, guys," he told the audience. "I lost my job, I lost my apartment, (I lost) the woman I loved, and my future family with her."

He began sleeping in unlocked cars in Philadelphia and his addiction continued until his near-suicide, which occurred in a drug den. He walked out of the drug den and ran into a policeman, and asked him to take him to jail, because he knew he couldn't go back to the life he had been living.

"He said: 'I can't do that. But I can get you some help,'" Rader recalled.

Rader entered a drug rehab program.

He said one of the main messages of people in the rehab program was: "We know you hate yourself now. But if you will just accept our help, we will love you until you learn to love yourself."

"It was the first time I realized there was actual help out there. I'm talking about real help," Rader said.

Young people are particularly susceptible to addiction, because they can suffer emotional setbacks when they are dumped by a girlfriend or boyfriend, or if they get a bad grade on a test, he said.

He encouraged the students to have a plan of action if they are offered drugs, Otherwise they will probably take them, he said in an interview after the assembly.

A plan of action could include, for example, having am already-prepared excuse to not use the drugs, such as having to leave to study for a test, he said.

"It's OK to tell a white lie" in that situation, he said in the interview.

While Rader's presentation had serious messages, he also used humor a lot during his talk.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com