Fatih Penda was addicted to opioids for over a decade and he is not afraid to talk about it.
“I don’t ever stay anonymous about my history or usage of drugs or alcohol because how is that supposed to attract other people to want to do what I’m doing?" he said.
The opioid epidemic claims more than 90 lives every day in the U.S., but Penda hopes to make a dent in the crisis by sharing his story and giving hope to other addicts that recovery is possible.
“I don't think we'll ever completely stop it, but I think what we can do is make people aware. Keep others alive," Penda said.
His addiction to drugs and alcohol began in high school, but Penda said things took a turn for the worse when his friend introduced him to prescription opioids.
“As powerful as crack is, I could live without crack. I couldn't live without my pain pills. I needed that. That was the difference," he said.
Penda has been sober for more than two years and works at A New Start Inc. in Florida, the same treatment center that helped him get clean. His job is to help addicts who relapse get back into treatment, which is something he has had to do himself in the past.
"I got arrested again for uttering false prescriptions. I went to jail again. I came out and I was like I'm going to stop. I'm coming up to being 30 years old. I'm working for other pizza stores for $10 an hour. We lost our business. My mother's miserable working for pizza stores trying to make a living," Penda said. "I tried my hardest to stop and I never could."
And though Penda was able to get clean, Jonathan Caulkin, a drug policy researcher at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College, said it is challenging for addicts to reach sobriety, especially on their first attempts to do so.
“Once somebody has opioid use disorder, even when they receive good treatment it is uncommon that they are treated and made whole and they are well in the same way that someone with a broken arm can be treated and within months the arm is essentially as good as new," Caulkin said.
But with 11.8 million people misusing opioids in 2016, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Penda wants to show other addicts how great life can be if they stop using drugs.
“Today, I'm in a good place where I have a 5-month-old child. I have a wife. We're married almost two years. I rent a townhouse. I have a new car. She has a new car. Only in the short matter of two-and-a-half years of not using this is how far I've come,” Penda said.