PRESCOTT, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - In her seven years at A Sober Way Home, a rehab center in Prescott, clinical director Lori Kidd explained the majority of patients they treat are struggling with an opioid addiction.
"I've seen an astronomical increase in the amount of opioid addicts coming through treatment, needing help," Kidd said. "Many of our clients that come here have overdosed multiple times and it's amazing that they're still on this planet."
She treats around 20 people at the center that's been around since 1999. Her youngest patient is 18, and her oldest patient is in their mid-50s. They all come from different backgrounds and parts of the country. Kidd believes there really is a crisis in communities throughout the country, and there isn't one specific face to it.
"It's the guy next door," she said. "It's the kid who had a scholarship, a full-ride scholarship to some amazing university and something happened and they went down the wrong path. There's no one population that's more at risk than others."
Throughout her experience, Kidd explained opioid addiction often starts with a person getting injured and in need of a medical procedure. The person gets prescribed a painkiller, heroin probably never crosses their mind.
"Somebody gets injured, they have a surgery, they get way too many Vicodins, way too many Percocets prescribed to them and they don't really think anything is wrong at first," Kidd said. "Then they realize, this is something that I need every day."
Once the prescription ends, that's when life can change quickly, according to the clinical director.
"Somebody has been using Vicodin or Percocet, and then all of a sudden they escalate to the use of heroin," she said. "They discover it's cheaper, the high is better, it lasts longer. It's stronger, and then that's where they reside."
That pattern is exactly how Derek Cooper's opioid addiction came to life.
"I myself am a recovering heroin and meth addict," he said.
He was 13 years old when he was prescribed his first painkiller for a knee surgery.
"About three a day, 90 for the month," he said.
Max Darrow, reporter: "Do you think you needed 90 Vicodins for a month?"
"No, nope, absolutely not," Cooper said.
At 29, he's been arrested three times and through rehab three times. Now, he's clean and sober, working as a community supervisor alongside Kidd at A Sober Way Home.
"A lot of the time, I see myself in them," Cooper said. "Back when I was in the thick of everything."
By way of his life experiences as a drug addict, Cooper feels that he is able to connect with the people who are struggling with their addiction on a deeper and more meaningful level.
"I've lived a rough life through my addiction, I put myself through that, I put my family through that," he said. "I know exactly what they are going through. If you didn't really live it, it's very hard to understand."
After Cooper's last stint in jail, he realized he needed a serious change. It was time to hit the reset button and put everything in perspective.
"It's a sickness," he said. "But it's treatable, with constant work. Waking up in the morning and not feeling sick and wondering where my next high is going to come from feels absolutely amazing."
He's not looking to put blame on anyone. Rather, he wants to help make change so that more people don't endure what he has, or worse. Part of that starts with education. When he was in school, he feels there wasn't enough education about how addictive prescription painkillers can be.
"Growing up, there really wasn't any education on any of this," Cooper said. "You heard the word heroin, and immediately you were like, 'oh, death, that's what that means.'"
But in the midst of the opioid epidemic, it isn't just heroin anymore that's ruining lives, taking away futures.
"It really is about life or death, because there are so many people dying with this," Kidd said. "There's a time and place that I think they're [painkillers] needed, but the majority of the time I think they are overprescribed. Nobody ever died from pain, experiencing pain, right?"
Moving forward, both Kidd and Cooper would like to see change in how people are educated about substance abuse, and also how doctors prescribe pills. They also say that help is out there, and it will always be out there for those in need.
"Homeless, jail, near death," Cooper said. "As long as I keep reminding myself of that every day, there's really no desire to want to go back to that."