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'You're not alone': Boise recovery center seeing increase in fentanyl around Idaho

Employees and volunteers with PEER Wellness Center said they see dozens of people everyday. However, they're seeing more and more people exposed to fentanyl come in.

BOISE, Idaho — The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) declared Tuesday the first National Fentanyl Awareness Day. The agency said overdoses from the opioid is now the leading cause of death among Americans between 18-45-year-olds.

Across Idaho, state and local agencies have been putting out awareness campaigns about the growing crisis for months, like Gov. Brad Little's Esto Perpetua Task Force. However, a Boise recovery center would like to see more awareness of the resources and help for those dealing with drugs and addiction.

"What about our next generation that's walking into this crisis? How do we educate them? How do we make sure that they're okay?" said Michelle Hill, the director of First Impressions and administrative support for PEER Wellness Center.

Volunteers and employees at PEER Wellness Center see dozens of people walk through their building's doors every day. For the month of April, Hill said they saw about 3,000 people come in.

"Essentially what we do is we help people get the resources they need, the support they need in order to continue their recovery and their sobriety," said Cassie Ewing, a recovery coach.

Both Ewing and Hill got involved with the center through their own journeys in recovery. They said getting help at a time when they were struggling made them want to give back to others. They said they saw a need for more of this type of work.

"I loved it," Hill said. "I loved the environment, very welcoming. I just wanted to be more involved."

"When I had the opportunity to pay it forward and help people that were looking for and needed help or just needed to know that they weren't alone I jumped at the chance," Ewing said.

While they enjoy working and helping new people each day, the two said it's been hard to keep up sometimes because of the rise of fentanyl throughout the Gem State.

"Fentanyl came in quick and fast and its numbers are huge," Ewing said. 

According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's Drug Overdose Prevention Program, fentanyl was related to 21% of overdose deaths in 2020. Preliminary data from March showed the number of overdose deaths doubled in 2021 to 42%.

Ewing said at the Center they're handing out Narcan and drug tests to help those who may have overdosed in the past or know someone that has. While they encourage people to abstain from drugs, they said these tools can help save lives - especially because of how the drug is being packaged and produced.

"Fentanyl is sneaky and it's unpredictable and it's everywhere," Ewing said.

Hill said it's being disguised and hidden in different types of drugs. She said it started out in a pill form, but now it's coming in a powder form. 

Hill has even had someone in her family that has accidentally overdosed on the synthetic opioid.

"You know, they struggled with their addiction and it ended up being cocaine, or what they thought was cocaine," Hill said. "They ended up doing it however they do it and it was fentanyl. He went gray instantly, his mouth went down and Narcan had to be administered three times before he came back to life. It is real and it is scary."

PEER Support Center said with more people coming through their center's doors, the number of those being exposed to fentanyl has risen too. Ewing said it's getting difficult for people to not find a drug that has been cut with it or has it in there.

"It's around and it's not so hard to make so that's why it's flooding," Ewing said.

"People that are addicts who have struggled their whole lives think they're doing one thing, and now they're getting something completely else," Hill added. 

Both Hill and Ewing don't believe people around the state truly know how fast and dangerous this opioid and its impacts are spreading.

"It's not going anywhere. It's not this thing that only happens in big cities and other states, it's right here and it's taking over," Ewing said.

Volunteers and employees at PEER Wellness not only want to spread awareness of the dangers, but also the resources for those struggling.

"We're here to say recovery is possible. After four years [of recovery], my biggest fear is if I were to go back out that's what I'd be going back out to you just don't know," Hill said. 

"You're not alone. Nobody's alone," Ewing said. "We're here for everybody."

PEER Wellness is 95% run by volunteers. They're open Monday through Friday from noon to 6 pm. Hill said when people contact them their goal is to get them connected to services within two to four hours.

To learn more about PEER Wellness Center or to volunteer, visit peerwellnesscenter.org or email joinus@peerwellnesscenter.org

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