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DIGGING DEEPER: Overwhelming Overdoses Part II

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TUCSON - The State stepped in and cracked down on prescription opioids that have been a problem for the last decade.

It's decreased the availability to those types of drugs.

However, the Digging Deeper team learned the people addicted to pain pills are buying illicit drugs on the street and that's why there's been an increase in deaths.

Behind a stainless steel door is where the bodies of people who have overdosed are kept. It's the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office, or the morgue.

“I ended up in prison twice,” said Josie Cortez. “Lost custody of my children, I have four kids, and I lost my self- respect, my dignity.”

Cortez said she was a hopeless addict who had no vision or future.

“I was gonna die from an overdose, I was going to get killed or spend the rest of my time in prison,” said Cortez.

Heroin was a source Cortez used to numb the emotional pain she had.

“I was molested as a kid, being raped at 14, having witnessed my grandmother's death at the hands of my husband's hand at 17. Then I started heavily using at that point,” she said.

Tom Jernigan was addicted to drugs for eight and a half years. 

Jernigan said he stole pain pills from his mother. Then he discovered heroin and began stealing from his family.  He also spent time in jail and saw his friends lose their lives or almost lose their lives.

Jernigan himself came close to losing his life a few times but made it through.

“I have to be grateful every day for what I have now and for what I managed to get away from and I’m also grateful that’s not where I am today,” he said.

Both Cortez and Jernigan got their chance for a better life when they came to Amity's Foundation Circle Tree Ranch, a 60-acre campus that offers an alternative approach to treating drug and alcohol addictions.

Jernigan has been sober for eight years and Cortez has been drug-free for 31 years this January.

Cortez and Jernigan both believe that the work of Amity’s Circle Tree Ranch got them through their darkest moments and showed them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

Paul Birmingham

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