Overcoming addiction: Life beyond the needle - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Overcoming addiction: Life beyond the needle

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Recently declared  a "public health emergency" by President Trump, it is clear the opioid epidemic is more destructive than ever before.

Killing more than 100 people across the United States every day, News5 is hearing the rare stories from one of the survivors of the epidemic in southern Colorado. 

"Heroin, just it consumes you, it owns you," Johnny Critchfield, a recovering heroin addict said.

It was like walking a thin line of death.

"Heroin was an escape, and when you first start doing heroin, you continuously chase that high," Critchfield said.

It started when 31-year-old Critchfield was only 12.

"We started smoking a lot of pot, and I was stealing my mom's vodka and refilling it with water and from 12 to 15," he said. "I wanted to be the kid who had done it all."

Wanting to fit in with the older "cool" kids, it developed into daily usage, then cocaine and Xanax, before moving into painkillers for fun in college.

But it only took one use in his early twenties, to become addicted to heroin. 

"Chasing it, you get close to death, I mean to get that good high, your central nervous system basically starts shutting down," he said.

And he picked up the needle for the first time when he moved to Colorado. 

"I was shot up and it was like something no human's ever supposed to feel and it was incredible," he said.

Then he chased that high for a decade, he lost his job and got in trouble with the law.

"I just want to live life again because I'm living my life around a drug," Critchfield said in a YouTube video in 2016.

Critchfield was eventually homeless on the streets of Denver when a non-profit made this YouTube video including him.

"I'm sick of letting myself down," he said in 2016.

Soon after it was posted, he got a message from his mom.

"You are not going to be with us for very much longer and I need to know when you are no longer with us, what you would like to do as far as funeral arrangements? Do you want to be cremated? Do you want to be buried? Where would you like to have your ashes spread?" Gaye Lynn Maddalena, Johnny's mother said.

"Being 30 years old, 29 at the time, and your mom is asking for your burial request, that's quite the thing to hear," he said back in 2016.

Changing an addict's line of thinking.

"Anytime I use, I have to know in my mind if I use, I can die, there's a chance and percentage that you're going to pass away," he said. "As extreme as that sounds, that's kind of how I have to live now."

New numbers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment show 912 people in Colorado died from a drug overdose last year alone.

504 of those, related to opioids or heroin.

The number of those killed by heroin,10 times higher than it was 15 years ago.

"It's not the homeless, it's not the middle class, it's not the rich, drugs don't discriminate, they will attack any part of your family or any home," Cynthia Orta, owner of Innova Recovery Services in Monument said.

Orta says family comes first on the road to recovery, especially because the risk of relapse is so high.

According to one study of nearly 1200 addicts, only about a third of people who are abstinent for less than a year, will stay clean. And for those who do stay clean for a full year, less than half will relapse.

A year ago, Johnny sought out help from meetings and support groups and then faced a relapse in May.

"My arm got infected and I was in the hospital for seven days with MRSA, I had a resistant bacteria skin disease and they almost had to amputate my arm," he said. "If that wasn't going to scare sobriety into me, nothing was going to."

He's been clean ever since, he's working to really reconnect with his family and has spent the past few months managing a sober living home in Colorado Springs.

"We're moving forward and he's doing well and we're so proud of him and we're so happy to have him an active part of our family again," Maddalena said.

And Johnny lives to see another day, without any substances, needles or debilitating overdoses.

He has also started a podcast to continue sharing his story with others which can be found here.

There are a number of different resources available for you to get help if you or someone you know is struggling through addiction. For more treatment options, click here.

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