CINCINNATI — Brittany Christians, a 32-year-old mother of three, represents hope and progress in the fight against heroin in Hamilton County.
The Hamilton County Heroin Coalition says new numbers show fewer people are overdosing and dying. Deaths were down 23 percent in 2018. Christians counts herself among the lucky ones.
“I’ve had two close calls,” she said.
A first responder gave her Narcan, and the recovering heroin addict says that was the moment that not only saved her life, it changed her life.
Christians said addiction is “painful, it's depressing, it's despair, it's morally … it takes everything.”
She reached a low point when she lost custody of her kids.
“It was hard to accept and I didn't like that I could have potentially harmed my children. They would not have known their mother,” she said.
Hamilton County gave out more than 8,636 free Narcan doses last year, and the lower death toll indicates making Narcan available is helping. But getting Christians on the road to recovery took support, and that’s where the First Step Home came in.
“I came into First Step kicking and screaming and unwilling … and it just took them loving me while I could not love myself … and setting boundaries that I could not set for myself at the time,” Christians said.
Last week First Step Home opened a brand new apartment building on Fulton Avenue just for women like Brittany. It will house 23 moms recovering from drug and substance abuse.
“It's very exciting because when women come to First Step Home they feel so helpless and hopeless,” said First Step President Margo Spence.
“We get rid of that whole barrier of women going into treatment and not being able to take your children.”
Spence said treatment is just one part of a four-pronged approach to ending the opioid crisis.
“It's not just to focus on the not use of the drug. There are so many other components involved. We’re talking about voc-ed training, housing, childcare,” she said.
That includes changing the conversation around heroin addiction.
“Just by reducing the stigma, I think, more people will step forward and say, ‘I need help’, “ said Spence.
That means reaching people who were once too afraid to step out of the shadows - like Christians.
Christians says the answer is treatment, not jail.
“Giving an addict a chance … to seek treatment, seek help and get to the underlying issues of why,” said Christians said. “Throwing them in jail is just setting them up for failure, to go back out and use – and possibly OD and die.”
With hope and help, Christians feels like she’s being given a second chance at life.
“It’s the best feeling in the world to have support and know I’m in recovery,” she said.
First Step Home is accepting applications for its new campus but residents must have first gone though their six-month residential treatment program to get clean.
Participants must follow strict rules which include curfews and no overnight male visitors.