SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A sobering look into the alarming rise of heroin overdoses here on the Central Coast. The numbers might shock you - every 72 hours someone on the Central Coast overdoses on heroin.
KCOY 12 took an in-depth look at this rapidly increasing problem.
Heroin addiction is highly considered an epidemic across the state of California and doctors say it's much the same right here on the Central Coast..
We sat down with a couple of recovering addicts to hear their story of hope - but they still have challenges ahead.
Vince and Jennifer have been together more than 10 years.
"I'm almost 40-years-old man, I just can't keep doing that," recovering heroin addict Vince Signorelli said.
They used to have, another love -
"It's a revolving door that's bad, it's a bad revolving door man, nothing ever gets any better, you know," Signorelli said.
That love was heroin. Each year together got tougher as they went down the dangerous path of addiction.
"Without it, you go through all these withdrawals," recovering heroin addict Jennifer Woods said.
When they got addicted to their prescription medication -
"My doctor got arrested," Signorelli said.
- and when doctors eventually cut them off, they resorted to street heroin.
"If you couldn't find the pills, we would have to do the heroin," Woods said.
Their lives were spiraling out of control before they finally got help.
"We do this together, we came in here together to dothis," Woods said.
That was three years ago - they'd had it - and it was time to get clean.
"You never know what you're getting, that's the bad
thing, when you can be getting something that's laced with something else," Signorelli said.
After years of drug use, Vince and Jennifer say they had much more to live for - specifically, their 9-year-old
"She's my heart and my soul, she'll be 10 next month," Woods said. "And I don't sugar coat things for
her, she knows, she knows what we've been through."
They're sharing their story in hopes it can help someone who's hooked.
"We've done a lot of stuff, family-wise, trips, Disneyland, baseball games, stuff we didn't do prior to coming here, so now we have our sobriety, we have money to do it, you know, we can do it," Woods said.
They have friends though, that haven't been as fortunate to get help.
"He's still doing very bad, really bad, I see him from time to time, I mean he spent eight hours in his bathroom trying to find a vein, you know, trying to find a vein because all his veins are blown out from shooting heroin," Signorelli said.
- Eight hours in a bathroom while Vince spent eight hours at work.
"And his arms are just like sponges and you see dents
from absesses, scarred all up and there's no veins all in his legs, his
arms, his sides, his stomach, I mean just everywhere, you know," Signorelli said.
They've been trying to get their friend sober.
Reporter: Do you ever worry your friend is going to die?
Signorelli: Oh yea, I wait for that phone call every day.
They know from experience it's no way to live.
"And I've done that too, spent hours in a bathroom...doing your thing," Signorelli said.
Heroin was once Vince's full-time job.
"I would open my eyes in the morning, grab my phone, what's out there, who has what, who needs what, what can I get, just so I could get up and function for the day, not even worrying about getting high, it's about functioning and then you can worry about getting high once you're well," Signorelli said.
He says he could've been in and out of prison.
"That's just really selfish of me, worrying about getting high than taking care of my daughter," Signorelli said.
"People who are having substance abuse.. are having huge troubles in their life," Aegus Treatment Center Dr. Dane Howalt said.
Dr. Dane Howalt's job is to help people like Vince and Jennifer turn their lives around.
At the Aegus Treatment Center in Santa Maria he treats people IN two ways: a 21-day detox where they don't use any drugs or a maintenance program where they use a prescription opioid, like Methadone to ease off street drugs.
"People say, gee are you just exchanging one drug for another and the answer is, yes, that's exactly what we're doing," Howalt said.
The ideal situation is that an addict can taper down their Methadone dosage until they eventually don't need it at all.
- but the number of addicts keeps growing.
"All of the graphs are showing increasing drug use, increasing drug dependence, increasing drug overdose, increasing drug deaths," Howalt said.
Dr. Howalt says there's no perfect system to treat this heroin epidemic but says this is the best one we've got. This clinic is for those who come voluntarily, not by court order.
"So these people are special," Howalt said.
"Each level on the tree represents how long far they've come in recovery and being illicit drug free," Clinic Manager Jeffrey Curtis said.
Curtis believes weekly counseling is key for addicts - counseling from people like Jennifer Herrera.
"Patients here come at their lowest," counselor Jennifer Herrera said.
She's trying to help addicts turn it around, like Vince and Jennifer did before it's too late.
"This place has just totally changed our lives, like for the better, like way for the better," Signorelli said.
Local law enforcement says this is a major problem that's making its way into schools. In Santa Barbara County, in 2005 there was 6 heroin overdoses compared to 65 in 2015.
Reporter Sean Larsen will have this story coming up at 6 p.m.