The heroin and pain pill crisis is a full-blown epidemic in our community. But treatment for this addiction crisis is inadequate and the death toll continues to grow. This is the first of a series of columns examining a broken system. You can also watch our WCPO 9 On Your Side special, "Heroin: Fixing a Broken System" at 7 p.m. Thursday.
FLORENCE, Ky. -- Overdoses and crime related to heroin have been making big headlines across Greater Cincinnati for years now.
But one aspect of the story that is rarely told is the struggle that addicts go through as they try to get clean. Two women agreed to let the 9 On Your Side I-Team follow them through a yearlong treatment program for addiction.
Rachel Thomas, 23, has been an addict since she was 15. She comes from a loving home, but came to the Brighton Recovery Center after using heroin and being arrested. She's been to Brighton before, but the court is giving her a second chance.
"It's called the SOS dorm," she said. "It's where you come when you get out of jail or off the streets. It's called 'Safe Off the Streets.'"
Just five days into her treatment, Thomas was "dope sick" in detox.
"I had nausea, I had diarrhea. I was very lethargic, and just restless at night," she said.
Jessica, who asked that her last name be withheld, is two months into her yearlong stay. She's new to this treatment center, but not new to trying to get clean.
"In the past 10 years since I was 17 years old, I've been going through, in and out of detox centers," she said.
Her family stepped in to get her help for heroin this time.
"I had to go to court and I had to get an assessment by doctors," she said. "Say I was to walk out of these doors today, I would go to jail."
Anita Prater runs the center. She said there's a three-month waiting list. More than 100 women are in treatment for substance abuse at Brighton.
"Over the past two years, we're about 95 percent nothing but heroin and other opiates," Prater said.
All of the women at Brighton are either considered homeless or low-income. Sixty percent of their beds are contracted through the Department of Corrections for probation, parole and supervision, according to Prater.
Twelve months of treatment come with a $16,000 price tag. Taxpayers cover about 40 percent of the cost.
The women are broken down so they can build themselves up, facing addiction -- a disease that doesn't discriminate -- head-on.
"It's been rough," Jessica said. "I've had a lot of ups and downs. I've cried a lot."
Part of Jessica's motivation is her 1-year-old daughter, Piper.
"I had to miss her first birthday in here," she said. "It was probably one of the hardest things."
Family gives Thomas strength, too. She keeps pictures tucked inside the Alcoholics Anonymous "The Big Book."
"It gives me a reason to stay," she said. "Because it's been really hard to stay coming back, you know? I just feel like a failure."
As the I-Team continues this series over the next several months, we'll show you how the women spend their days in treatment and how all of the women living together rely on each other as they work to get sober.
Visit WCPO.com/heroin for more stories and information about overcoming addiction.