Sad statistic: Rise in heroin overdoses in AZ

Posted at 7:35 PM, Mar 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-14 22:35:58-04

The latest statistics from the Center for Disease Control show heroin use across the country is up 90 percent since 2002.

It’s a staggering number that’s becoming a reality in local hospitals and medical professionals say they see heroin patients on a daily basis.

“Heroin is a daily reality in the streets of Phoenix, daily.  There's not a day that goes by where at least two or three of my patients don't admit that heroin is part of their drug pattern.” said Faye Hamilton, part of St. Luke’s Hospital ER staff.

It was just last September when Paul, a former heroin user, called 911. Paul had come home to find his best friend and roommate overdosed on the drug.

We’ve chosen only to use his first name out of respect to his 12-step group's anonymity rule.

“It is one of the most terrifying and sad experiences a human being can experience, doing CPR on your best friend,” Paul tearfully recalled.

As Paul tried to save his best friend’s life, he could see himself and his own battle with drugs.

“Having to watch as people's lives crumble, as parents question, did I do enough, as girlfriends question.  It's tough, it’s a very sad and tough experience for someone to go through,” said Paul.

Paul battled his own heroin addiction for a decade. 

“The whole time I never believed that 'OK, I'm going to become an addict, I'm going to become homeless...the mind is a powerful thing and it will convince you and it convinced me for years that it's not going to happen to me,” said Paul.

He started using at age 19 and nearly lost his life three times to overdose. Two of the overdoses happened in the same day.

“I wake up and someone is giving me CPR and I come to and realize what just happened and the ambulance gets there and the only thought in my mind is, where did the heroin go? I refused to get help or go to the emergency room because all I wanted to do is continue to get high," he recalls.

Medics say while overdosing can be traumatic, it’s often is the moment that addicts see the walls tumbling in around them and get help.

And while it can be humbling, medics know the next battle is just beginning.

“You realize the incredible journey they're going to have trying to break, that habit of heroin addiction and what drives them to the point of overdose,” said Hamilton.

Paul told ABC15 that heroin was all too easy to score on the streets and for minors, it can be easier than trying to buy beer. There’s no age limit.

But there’s something else that doesn’t have an age limit: recovery and hope.

Five years ago, Paul said he finally got what he calls “The Grace of God" and he’s been sober since.

He agreed to tell us his story hoping to spread the message that recovery is real.

“Life today is beyond my wildest dreams. It's a life worth living,” said Paul with a warm smile.

Hamilton tells families to look for behavioral changes that could indicate drug addiction.

Moodiness, isolation, and detachment from family and friends can be one of the biggest red flags along with unaccounted time and money.