From rock bottom to recovery: The story of heroin addict survivors

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. --- In a dramatic and intense scene, FOX59 captured multiple drug users being brought back to life with naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of a heroin overdose. The people bringing the drug users back to life with the powerful chemicals in their hands are Indianapolis EMS and Firefighters, the "Antidote Angels" of Indianapolis.

Ben Gonzales has met these Angels many times in his life.

"My story is unlike what most people would envision when they think of someone with an addiction," Gonzales said.

A former heroin addict, Ben went from being a college grad with a new job in a big city, to having his dreams shatter before his eyes.

"I went through a rough breakup, which I didn't handle too well and lost my job all within the matter of a week," said Gonzales.

Ben turned to heroin. The drug quickly became his best friend, his confidant, the only way he could make it through each day. He was good at covering the fact that he was addicted.

"It became like a survival instinct. I had to wake up every day and for me to even be able to function, I’d have to spend at least 30 to 40 dollars at the dope man’s house and then I could go and do something," he explained.

While showing him the video FOX59 captured of people being brought back to life, Ben described the feeling they're going through. He knows this feeling all too well.

"You have no clue what just happened. You were just on the floor gasping for air, hanging on to your life and then you wake up and you don’t even know what’s going on. It feels like nothing’s happened. You feel perfectly fine," he said. "You’re just kind of like, oh my God, what did I just do, what’s going on here, who the hell are all these people in my house."

For Ben, his rock bottom moment was when he almost died.

"Had the worst overdose I’ve ever had. This one was in my family home. They found me on the bathroom floor. Blue in the face, not breathing," he said.

This wasn't the first time he overdosed. In fact, Ben was met face-to-face with "Antidote Angels" at least four times before this, but this time, it was scary enough for Ben to know he needed help.

"At first, I denied treatment, I said ‘no I’m not that bad,’" he said.

Ben was admitted to Fairbanks, a recovery center with a focus on long-term rehab for people with drug addictions.

Robin Parsons is the Chief Clinical Officer. She said in her 30 years of drug treatment work, she's never seen an epidemic this powerful.

"So many young people don’t get the opportunities to work on recovery and have a lot of relapses, some overdose and die," Parsons explained.

Statistics from The National Institute on Drug Abuse state 40 to 60 percent of drug users relapse. For heroin, that number could be even higher, meaning less than half of heroin users recover from the addictive and deadly drug.

The life-saving antidote for Ben was his decision to get help, but it wasn't an easy road. The National Institutes of Health report only 20 percent of heroin users get help.

Through Ben's work, he's been able to help save the lives of others as well.

"All those things and more happened because I was willing to put this thing called recovery above everything else," he said. "The only thing you really need to start recovery, to start making this process of change, is humility."

While experts believe there may be no way to curb addiction in general, Parsons said there are more conversations happening about the heroin epidemic and more people are talking about ways to find a cure.

"Because of the overdose deaths and because of the overdose deaths in young people, not the stereotypical long term addict living on the street, these are young bright people with futures ahead of them, it’s brought the conversation to a level where people are starting to understand it better," Parsons said.

If you or someone you know needs help, call Fairbanks at (317) 849-8222. For more on their recovery programs, click here.

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