A group of recovering addicts are using their experiences to help others struggling with the same problems. Addicts find a counselor and support system they can relate to and trust and the counselors are able to give back and help show people recovery is a realistic goal.
Mark Nettleton has been clean from drugs for a little more than two years. The recovering heroin addict started abusing prescription painkillers after breaking his back at just 14 years old. It was not an easy climb out of addiction.
"The drugs take over your mind, your body and your soul," he explained.
But after finally overcoming his addiction, Nettleton now helps others dealing with those same problems.
"It also helps the person coming in because it's kind of like a mutual feeling," Nettleton said. "It's the understanding part. We've all been there. We've done that. We understand why you stole from your family. We understand why you'd do anything to get the next one. And we're there to tell you that recovery happens."
Nettleton is a counselor with Addict 2 Addict, a group that offers services to addicts and their families in Erie County.
That understanding is crucial for those hoping to beat addiction, according to Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein.
"To have a mentor or support person to help them think rationally and encourage them and say 'hey, I did it you can do it too' is so important," she said.
Erie County ranks among the worst of New York's counties in terms of premature death, according to a recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Besides things like heart disease and cancer, the statistic also takes into account accidental deaths from drug overdoses. The report's authors say those numbers are climbing nationwide at a rate much faster than other types of premature death.
In Erie County, opioid related deaths have increased every year since 2013.
The phone number for the Addict 2 Addict hotline is: (716) 836-2726.
More information can be found at the group's website here.