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'It's not the same': How the fentanyl epidemic changed the fight against addiction

Fentanyl is the number 1 killer of 18 to 49-year-olds.
Rainbow Fentanyl
Posted at 1:21 PM, May 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-10 21:41:12-04

NAPLES, Fla. — When customers walk into the St. Matthew’s House Thrift Store in Naples, they’ll see Rachel Frank’s smiling face.

It’s the smile of someone two years sober after a 15-year addiction to drugs and alcohol.

“Eventually it all led to fentanyl. Fentanyl and crack cocaine, they just brought me, really, to the end of myself so quickly. Took me places I didn’t want to go,” said Rachel, who is studying to be an EMT.

Rachel recently married her new husband, Kyle, whom she met in recovery at Justin’s Place and Jill’s Place, part of the St. Matthew’s House, a yearlong, faith-based addiction recovery program unlike any other in the country.

Rachel Frank
Rachel Frank, a recovering addict, works at the St. Matthew's House Thrift Store.

As part of our ongoing series of reports on the front lines of the battle against fentanyl, Fox 4 Investigates sat down with five leaders from the Justin’s Place recovery program. Many of them are recovering addicts.

Two of them, Jessica Betten and Andrew Eason, both went through the program after nearly dying from overdoses.

“The people who were with me, who were my ‘friends’ didn’t even call an ambulance,” said Betten, who serves as the Director of the Alumni Association at the program. “I am extremely blessed to even be alive.”

“If you’re coming into recovery, everybody knows somebody who died,” said Eason who serves as the director of Justin’s Place.

But even in a room full of specialists and recovering addicts, no one can remember a time when addiction was so deadly. They all point to one drug; the most dangerous drug in America.

“Fentanyl is such a scourge right now and it’s killing so many people,” said Steven Brooder, the CEO of St. Matthew’s House.

Florida had one of the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in 2021, the most recent year data is available, with nearly 8,000 people dying.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says more than 2/3rds of those deaths involved fentanyl.

Justin's Place
Justin's Place, part of St. Matthew's House, is a yearlong, faith-based recovery program.

“I’ve lost two brothers to overdose. And my wife lost a sister,” said Jeff McDowell, the Senior Director for Justin’s Place. “It’s not the same as it was five years ago, or even a decade ago, as it is with fentanyl.”

While the body count might scare many, in the mind of an addict, it can be an attraction.

“Me, personally, when I was using, if I heard this almost killed someone I would say, ‘I want some of that,’” said Betten. “Because I’m an addict. And it sounds like it was a really good high. And that’s how an addict’s mind works.”

Despite the darkness, the recovery specialists all insist recovery is possible. But it will require more resources from state and federal levels, along with more treatment centers.

“You’re gonna walk over bodies. Because that’s how this disease works,” Betten said. “The only thing I can do in response to that is help as many as I can try to help.”

Back at the thrift store, that same commitment to help others is what drives Rachel everyday.

“I’m just so glad to be here,” Rachel said.

“To be able to help others and let them know that there is a way.”

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