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Two recovering Utah drug addicts tell their stories

Rachel Santizo, KSL Reporter Mary Richards, and Casey Erickson after their interview

Our nation is grappling with an opioid addiction epidemic. And the majority of Utahns who use pain pills to get high, are getting them from a friend or family member. Most of the time, those people are handing over their pills willingly.


Two Utahns are sharing their addiction stories and how they got help, as advocates urge everyone to either lock up their pills or get rid of them.


Rachel Santizo and Casey Erickson fell into addiction through different paths.


“I wasn’t 12 years old thinking I would grow up to be an addict, that was not my dream,” said Santizo.


She was prescribed pain pills by a doctor when she was 24 or 25, to help her back pain. She liked how they made her feel, so she took more. It got to the point where she was taking a handful just to get out of bed in the morning and get through the day.


Erickson says he started using weed when hanging out with his friends as a teen and young adult. It grew to include harder drugs, and then opiates, which is when he says his problem really started.


Despite running into troubles with the law and troubles with his family, Erickson says he didn’t think he had a problem. Until his family had him legally evicted from the home.


‘They were enabling me, and they were killing me,” he said.

He ended up homeless.  So did Santizo, as her opiates addiction grew to heroin.


“I used heroin for the first time thinking it would help me get off the pills,” she said. But she ended up losing custody of her two kids for 2 ½ years.


It was rock bottom for both of them.


“You see things that people aren’t meant to be capable of, but they are, ” said Erickson.


“Anything you can think of, I went through, saw, felt during that time,” said Santizo.


Years of time. But one day, she says she woke up and didn’t want to do it anymore.


Erickson was the first person picked up by police last year in Project Diversion.


“At this point I was really tired. Tired of feeling like nobody and nothing,” said Erickson.


Both chose to go to the Odyssey House for treatment.

“Odyssey House is incredibly hard. It takes a long time, and it takes a lot of work, but if you want it bad enough you can change,” said Erickson, adding that it changed his life.


“People don’t want to go to Odyssey House because they say it’s hard. I would use the word challenging. It forces you to look at yourself and see why you are using in the first place,” said Santizo.


The Chief Operating Officer for Odyssey House, Christina Zidow, says detoxing from a pain pill addiction is horrendous. She says big changes have to be made in society to get a handle on this major problem.


“85 percent of people who use pain pills to get high, got them from a friend or family member, who gave them willingly,” said Zidow.


She says get those pills out of your house. If you do need them, lock them up. Or, start by asking if you need them at all.


“Push back against your doctor.  After only a couple of days, you can be addicted, and you can be addicted for the rest of your life. Is a tooth ache or back ache really worth this pernicious disease?” she asked.


Rachel Santizo and Casey Erickson have been clean now for a while, but they say they each have a lifetime ahead of fighting, and they say it is a fight every day.


“The way I stay sober today is service,” said Santizo. “It is exhausting but it is better than the exhaustion of staying up all night because of the drugs.”


“Don’t give up on us. Be kind, be kind to everyone,” said Erickson.


“The more we use our voice we can be the change,” said Santizo.