'Mess USA' happy to talk about her drug addiction, rehab

Published: Oct. 28, 2015 at 9:48 PM EDT|Updated: Dec. 12, 2015 at 11:18 PM EST
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Tara Conner (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Tara Conner (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY(WAVE) - Miss USA 2006 Tara Conner says at her lowest point TMZ referred to her as "Mess USA," a tabloid title she is now able to laugh at, but it took many years of recovery.

Conner's fall from grace became a national spectacle after her alcohol and cocaine abuse was discovered during her reign as Miss USA.  After her highly publicized rehab was ordered by Donald Trump, she said her life really changed and she's hoping other Kentucky families struggling with heroin abuse and other addiction are listening.

"It's nice to be back here, this is the first time I've shared my story in Kentucky," an emotional Conner said Wednesday in Louisville.

Conner was back home to tell her story of abuse and addiction. This time, it went far beyond her scandalous fall from grace as Miss USA.

"Still to this day, I'm "Disgraced Miss USA,'" Conner told the crowd at The Healing Place event highlighting the need for families dealing with heroin abuse to seek treatment.

Conner said when she hears people say addiction is a choice, it infuriates her.

"I actually started using when I was 14 years old," she said, "I was a full blown addict."

She said she became depressed as a young girl after her grandfather - her family role model died.  She said her mother did everything she could to make sure Conner stayed a teen pageant title holder after she was caught with prescription drugs in her purse in high school.

Conner told the crowd, "They didn't charge me with anything, they didn't arrest me, they called my mom in and she begged them, please just give her a pass."

After winning Miss Kentucky and Miss USA, Conner said she kept her secret going until she tested positive for cocaine. She said Trump was ready to kick her out as Miss USA until she convinced him it would look better for him, if he helped her change her life around. He agreed. She wasn't expecting what followed.

"I immediately got into recovery and it completely saved my life,"  she said.

If she hadn't gotten help, Conner said she is certain she would have moved on to heroin as it's a cheaper quick fix.

Healing Place President Karyn Hascal said Conner's appearance demonstrates what recovery looks like and how former addicts can give back.

"Now they have really productive vital lives," he said.

Conner wants parents to know it all starts in your medicine cabinet, it's where she started.

"We have to change public perception on this topic," she said, "because our kids are dying."

As for Trump? Conner said the two still aren't on speaking terms since he used the word "druggies" this summer. She said she publicly commented that it was inappropriate language that only adds to the stigma of addiction and she claims he got mad at her.

Conner, who now lives in California, said she still appreciates what he did for her.

Families can contact organizations like the Healing Place for help. Officials say groups like Nar-Anon and Al-Anon are great first steps at getting free assistance.     
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