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A 24-year-old Flagstaff man died from a suspected heroin overdose in early February.

Later in the month, two men were arrested on felony assault charges in the wake of a heroin deal that fell through. The same week, a woman was arrested with meth, heroin and items to help her package it for sale in her possession.

Heroin and meth, according to the Metro anti-narcotics task force, have had a consistent presence in Flagstaff for years.

In an effort to try to keep young people off heroin, other illegal drugs and alcohol — and to keep clean themselves — some young people in a treatment facility in Flagstaff are going out into the community to tell their stories.

“Telling their stories helps solidify, acknowledge where they’ve come from,” said Spencer Gharrity, 23.

Recently, clients of the Back2Basics Sober Living recovery center made a presentation to students at Northern Arizona University. Their message was one of hope that people can recover from addiction. Even more pronounced was the message of the dangers of starting down the path.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the use of illegal drugs among people 12 and older has been on the rise between 2002 and 2012. In 2002, about 8.3 percent of the country’s population used illegal drugs or abused prescription medications. In 2012, that number had grown to 9.6 percent, or about 24 million people.

Back2Basics is a for-profit recovery center that focuses on hands-on activities to get young adults back on track in life. Residents participate in outdoor adventures, focus on a 12-step recovery process, and undergo group and individual therapy for “... the long-term transformation of our residents into a self-sustaining and sober adult.”

Gharrity was a client of the recovery center, and has since become an employee. He started doing drugs when he was 13, and turned to heroin when he was 17. His first stay at a treatment center took place when he was 19.

“Eventually, I ended up in Flagstaff at Back2Basics, where I established long-term sobriety,” Gharrity said.

Brad Jones, 23, also started using drugs — off and on — when he was 12 or 13. At 19, he was hooked on heroin, and ended up washed out of college and on the streets before he decided to give recovery a try.

“For some reason, I had the honesty to give it a shot.”

Both men are now in college, seeking degrees in social work.

DISCUSSION FORMAT

At NAU, the clients talked about their experiences with addiction and their recovery. They told stories of where they came from and where they are now in their lives.

The presentations, which are also given to high school and college students, were followed by a question and answer period.

Gharrity said that the importance of the presentation is to give a perspective on a healthy lifestyle for all attendees while also reaching students who might be struggling addiction.

Jones said the presentations help alleviate some of the stigma and misconceptions associated with addiction.

Gharrity added, “It’s good for the community to see we are not all shopping-cart-pushing homeless people.”

SUPPORT BEYOND TREATMENT

The outreach program is a joint effort between alumni like Gharrity and Jones and the residents at Back2Basics. The program is meant to help the residents see beyond the center, that there is community and support beyond treatment.

“Regardless of what happens, good or bad, we are there to support,” Jones said, adding that it is a process to make it easier to reach out when the residents, once they graduate, are struggling.

The purpose of the presentations to area students is to display the warning signs, to tell stories of personal experience — not to preach, not to sermonize.

“From there, they can get the curiosity to make a self-diagnosis,” Jones said, which is important.

Gharrity said the presentation helps with choices. And recovery is a choice, a way out, a light that shows that not all hope is lost and that a good life is possible.

Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or lhendricks@azdailysun.com.

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