TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora drew on his own past in debuting a song at a forum on drug abuse Tuesday.
The event, at a high school arena, was aimed at raising awareness about the abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers along the Jersey shore.
Sambora, a New Jersey native, unveiled a song he wrote called "Lighthouse," about providing hope to people mired in addiction. He acknowledged he once abused drugs but said he's clean now.
"I got firsthand experience," he told reporters before the event. "I never did heroin, but obviously I did other stuff."
He originally titled the song "Needles On The Shore" but decided to change the name.
"I wanted to do something optimistic, a beacon of light and hope," he said. "Everyone needs that light when they're far off the shore."
The track included the lines: "Those who matter don't judge/When you're swimming with the tide in the wake of a flood."
He told the crowd of 4,000 (with another 1,000 watching from an overflow video monitor room) that he is as scared as the parents who packed the arena.
"I'm mostly here as the father of a 16-year-old girl," Sambora said. "I'm scared. ... But we can't be scared silent. Together we can make a difference because this epidemic has to stop."
"Lighthouse" will be sold on iTunes, with proceeds going toward a drug treatment facility envisioned for the region, Sambora said.
Backed by a children's choir, Sambora also performed the Bill Withers classic "Lean On Me" and a slow-paced version of the Bon Jovi megahit "Livin' On A Prayer."
He also hugged a mother whose son suffered brain damage and is in a wheelchair after using heroin one time.
Sambora was introduced to Ocean County prosecutor Joseph Coronato through a mutual friend and decided to help Coronato in his anti-drug campaign, which has already reduced heroin overdose deaths in the area.
Sambora said drugs had nothing to do with his departure from Bon Jovi last year. He said the band tried to do too much too soon and he needed a break from the pace.
"It was my family," he said. "We've been doing this for over 30 years. I'm the guy who wrote these songs, who co-produced the records. We would tour for 12 to 18 and a half months. My last tour was 52 countries. ... You realize you miss a lot of life."
Sambora said he expects to rejoin Bon Jovi but has no time frame.