MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - Twenty-six-year-old Brandon Oertel grew up in a Hancock County home regularly going to church.
"Because of the way my parents brought me up I was in church my whole childhood," Oertel said. "Just the whole stigma with drugs and people who use drugs, I guess looking back on it, I considered myself better than that."
Twenty-nine-year-old Shawn Ruppert grew up in a Montgomery County home. He said he was not raised in the church.
He saw the worst effects of drugs at a young age.
"I had a good friend, Amanda Horton, who I saw pass away when I was 15," Ruppert said. "She passed away and I woke up and found her dead. She died of a methadone overdose."
As Ruppert and Oertel grew up their lives started to follow the same path. Both started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol before they were teenagers.
By their early 20s, they were shooting up heroin.
"When Oxycontin got too expensive, I found heroin, which was cheaper and stronger," Oertel said.
Ruppert tried heroin for the first time when his heroin-addicted wife left him.
"I wanted to see what she left me for, bottom line," Ruppert said. "It's a numbness. It puts your mind at complete rest. Your heart is just dead. Your soul is gone."
Jennifer Lavignette is an in-patient therapist at Sycamore Springs in Lafayette. Her patients deal with substance abuse.
Lavignette said people who use heroin experience a euphoric high.
"All this dopamine is released when heroin is entered into our bodies, which gives a lot of sedation," Lavignette said. "A lot of people will say there is just no other feeling like it."
But no matter how much Ruppert and Oertel loved the high, they hit rock bottom.
Then, they came to Trinity Mission treatment center in Crawfordsville. Oertel is going on two years sober, and Ruppert has been clean for three months.
"We have different paths, but I am not controlled by that," Oertel said. "Sure there is always temptation, but it's the same as you would have temptation."
"I have struggles every day, but it's awesome now," Ruppert said. "I have a purpose now, there is hope."
Oertel and Ruppert know their recovery is just beginning. Lavignette said after getting clean heroin addicts can fight health problems their whole lives.
"A person who uses heroin is 10 to 30 times more likely to have an early mortality rate," Lavignette said. "They're more likely to contract HIV/AIDS. Some of the other long term effects can be collapsed veins."
Twenty years ago Ruppert and and Oertel may not have had much in common. But the friends agree there is a reason for what they went through.
"I spend a lot of time thinking about my past, and things I learned from it," Oertel said. "Honestly, I don't regret what I've been through, or what I chose to do because it led me to this point."
"I always believed before people couldn't change," Ruppert said. "As a heroin addict and a needle junkie I was going to live by that needle and die by that needle, but I don't have to and I know that."
If you or a loved one is dealing with substance abuse you can call Sycamore Springs in Lafayette at 765-743-4400.
To reach Trinity Mission you can call 888-742-1060
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