We saw it coming.
2017 is on track to end with a record number of opiate overdose deaths in Cuyahoga County.
The Ohio Opiate Task Force says 656 have died this year in deaths related to heroin, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
With one month to go, that’s already 109 more than last year’s total.
But Brandon Winegar is a recovering addict who is living a story of hope out of the heroin epidemic.
He grew up quickly, addicted to Xanex at 12 years old.
"By 14 I was a full blown drug addict," says Winegar.
He lists off heroin, meth, crack cocaine, alcohol. His life in between highs was breaking in, stealing, blowing off school.
He spent time locked up in juvenile detention.
"You have no control. It gets to a point where that is all you care about. I was homeless living in my truck with my ex-wife. Eventually I lost custody of my 2 and 3-year-old boys. That was when I was like it's either time to sober up or die, that was where I was at," says Winegar.
That was then. This is now.
2 months newly sober, it’s 5 a.m. workouts every day.
AA meetings every day.
"Sobriety is full time work," Winegar says.
It’s treatment from Luna Living Recovery in Chagrin Falls that has been the game changer this time around.
Luna’s Wendy Komac says it starts with “flooding the body” with “NAD”.
It’s an enzyme found naturally in the body and when addicts get increased levels of it, she says, "It doesn’t take long before it curbs craving and they start feeling better, and when they are feeling great and thinking clearly that provides an optimal framework to do the necessary work to get sober and stay sober."
Total overdose deaths in Cuyahoga County are on track to be up 25% over last year.
"It doesn't have to be that way. It does not have to be that way," says Komac confidently.
With just a month to go, the Cuyahoga County Coroner expects before the year is out, as many as 850 lives will lost to overdoses.
No surprise to Brandon Winegar.
"No, by the time I was 19 I lost my best friend. The day before I got here, I lost another really good friend. I have a sister in prison. I have 2 step brothers in prison. It’s all from heroin,” says Winegar.
It’s not lost on him how close he was to BEING a statistic.
"Oh yeah! Every day I drop to my knees. Every. Single. Morning. And I thank God for keeping me sober for one more day. I just pray for strength. I pray for all those people because it's hard. But here is hope. You have to want it and you can't keep making excuses," Winegar says from hard earned experience.
"I wake up and I know I'm making these decisions. Not a drug. Not some demon, because that’s the only way I can describe it. It's a demon telling me, 'Get high. Get high. Get high'," says Winegar.
Tha’ts probably what the 666 people the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner says died last year form overdoses would say from the grave if they could.
But for Brandon, right here, right now, "I have a purpose," he says.
It’s with a confidence that comes from being clean, sober, healthy, ALIVE for his kids.
Soaking up what his sponsor told him.
“I'm just God’s messenger. He gave me this chance now I have to live right, keep it going and pass it on,” says this new and improved Brandon Winegar.