Stan Milburn wants you to know there is more to fight than just the number of people who've died from drug overdoses. At a time when Jefferson County is seeing a steady rise in overdose deaths, his story is one of hope after addiction.
"When you wake up in the morning, that's the only thing that's on your mind and even after you get it, the next one is on your mind," Milburn said.
The high for him lasted more than a decade, from his first hit of marijuana at the age of 11 to years of pain killers.
"I didn't take them the way I was supposed to," he said.
Milburn eventually turned to drugs like meth and heroin, when the laws cracked down on Oxycontin and Opana.
"It took me places I don't ever want to go again. It took me down real fast," Milburn said.
It was the place he turned to, to hide from his reality: his parents' divorce and his father's death.
"I knew what I was doing was wrong but the obsession to just feel numb so I didn't feel anything else was more important than any morals I felt at the time," Milburn said.
Drugs took over his life like so many others around him. The difference is that he's still here.
"I want to say I know about 50 people," he said.
He says these fifty people lost their battle with addiction.
"Some older, some younger. The youngest was 22. Had a one-year-old son. Why did I not die? Why did he? I had the opportunity to help him and I did everything I could but at the end of the day it was his choice," Milburn said.
It's a sobering number for any one person to cope with, but it's the reality every day for many people.
Overdose deaths in Jefferson County this year are expected to surpass last year's 364, with the current number of deaths around 316. The youngest victim was a baby. The youngest addict was 17. The oldest was an 87-year-old man. Many lived in the 40216, 40215, 40214, 40272 and 40219 zip codes, but the numbers stretch across all areas of the county.
"For the first time in the history of our country, life expectancy is declining and it's one hundred percent attributable to the drug epidemic, Matthew Boyle, the owner of Landmark Recovery in Louisville, said.
Like many centers in town, the demand for help at Landmark is so high, addicts are on a waiting list.
"Well over 50 percent of our patients are heroin addicts and at many treatment centers, it's higher than that," Boyle said.
Boyle says it can take 10 to 20 relapses before someone reaches sobriety.
Heroin, Fentanyl, and THC rank among the highest in drug overdoses and when combined, they're even more lethal.
First responders are answering more calls than ever. Equipped with Naloxone (or Narcan), they save lives, over and over again. In the last 5 years, the city of Louisville has provided more than 3.5 million doses of the antidote to locals, though the number used is in question.
"It's hard to track the number that family and friends are giving. We record the number of Narcan doses we give out to the community, but we don't have a way to track if someone uses it and doesn't call 911," Dr. Sarah Moyer with Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness said.
The city's health department continues its efforts to curb the epidemic with free Naloxone kits and training sessions and a needle exchange program, used by more than 11,000 people. Its hope is to build relationships with users while pointing them in the right direction. The department is also hosting classes at local libraries for anyone who feels someone they know might be headed down the wrong path.
"My rock bottom was March of 2013. I got diagnosed with Hepatitis C."
That's when Milburn turned his life around.
"I was homeless, couch surfing, didn't know where my next meal was going to come from, and so when I finally got help it was such an upgrade from where I was at, I ran with it," he said.
Milburn found help at Centerstone, formerly known as Seven Counties.
"It's hard to ask for help. It takes a big shot at your pride and ego but it's necessary," Milburn said.
Three and a half years later, he's now a peer support coordinator for other recovering addicts and a father to a 2-year-old son.
"It is possible, not only to recover, to get a job, but to be a parent, a successful productive member of society and to enjoy life, Milburn said.
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