The frozen, February shoreline of Lake Ontario offers a serene setting for Alyssa Pashong on her journey to recovery. Today, she's the picture of health, a happy, healthy, 20-something.
But only nine months ago, Alyssa was at a crossroads.
"It was literally a picture of a person that was on death's door." says Alyssa as we sit down for a one-on-one interview at her father's home in Wilson.
Alyssa is referring to the mug-shot that was taken only hours after she overdosed on heroin and crack cocaine. Alyssa was sitting in a Tops parking lot on that terrifying night in May of 2017. Someone saw the young woman, lifeless in her car around 2:30am and called police.
"The next thing I remember," says Alyssa, "the cops were knocking on the window, I had no idea what was going on."
The mug shot represents the end of a very dark, years long chapter in Alyssa's life, one that began when she was still in High School. Alyssa describes her teen years as pretty typical, she played field hockey, went to prom, had a boyfriend, and a deep desire to fit in.
It was that desire that ultimately led her to experiment with prescription pills.
"Just things that honestly kids' parents had at home. Things that were in the medicine cabinet," says Alyssa.
That recreational use was made even more accessible while she was in college. Doctors prescribed her hydrocodone for a knee injury. Alyssa, and her boyfriend at the time were taking the pills several times a day. That's when dependency set in. Alyssa says she would experience flu-like symptoms, until her next high.
"When those prescriptions ran out and now all of a sudden I have a big problem," says Alyssa.
By then, Alyssa says she was desperate to relieve her withdrawal symptoms. Without access to pills, she turned to heroin.
"I had a mission," says Alyssa, I didn't want to be sick."
Her dangerous progression is all too common. Federal data shows about 80% of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. And Alyssa's devoted family, was unknowingly funding her habit, out of fear.
"I tried to make everything right for her," says Jon Pashong, Alyssa's father. "If she couldn't pay her rent, I'd pay her rent. I paid her rent for many years. I leased her a brand new car and she never made on payment on it."
Alyssa's father and mother begged their only daughter to go to rehab. But since she was an adult in denial, they couldn't force her into treatment. It was only when she nearly died, that night in May, that Alyssa turned a corner, realizing she needed help and fast. The same weekend Alyssa was found in the Tops parking lot, eight other people died from heroin overdoses in Erie County. She faced several charges stemming from that night, but Alyssa says it forced her to make a life-saving change. "Now I look back and I'm like, well maybe, thank God that happened, because that really woke me up."
Alyssa now lives with her father in Wilson and she's nine months clean. She also regularly attends outpatient therapy. "I like to think Alyssa's still with us so that she can help in this time of drug addiction," says her Dad.
The message Alyssa wants everyone to take away from her story is the many faces of addiction. "I started to accept myself a little bit and realize, hey, I'm not alone. There's places that are made for people just like me, and they're full."
Resources for anyone struggling with addiction
Bailey Lasalle Counseling Center
3297 Bailey Avenue
Phone: (716) 833-3622
Batavia Recovery Center
314 Ellicott Street
Boulevard Counseling Center
1370 Niagara Falls Boulevard
Phone - Addiction: (716) 833-3708
Phone - Mental Health: (716) 833-3792
Broadway Recovery Center
Phone: (716) 834-6401
Hertel-Elmwood Counseling Center
699 Hertel Avenue, Suites 350 & 330
Phone: (716) 831-1977
Lockport Counseling Center
637 Davison Road
Niagara Falls Counseling Center
6520 Niagara Falls Boulevard
Niagara Falls, NY
Pine Avenue Recovery Center
2400 Pine Avenue
Niagara Falls, NY
Sanborn Counseling & Health Center
6321 Inducon Drive East
Southtowns Family Recovery Center
3345 Southwestern Boulevard, Suite 100
Orchard Park, NY
Tonawanda Counseling Center
37 Niagara Street
Transit Family Recovery Center
6495 Transit Road, Suite 800
East Amherst, NY
Union Losson Counseling Center
2563 Union Road
Ashley Rowe is a co-anchor for 7 Eyewitness News at 5, 6, and 11 p.m. each weeknight. Have a news tip? Send it to us using the form here.