July 3, 2017

The opioid epidemic hits Erie, Pennsylvania

The opioid epidemic has devastated communities across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that opioid overdoses have risen 400 percent since 2000. America has at least 2 million opioid addicts. Every day, 91 people die from opioid overdose.

The problem is particularly pervasive in the Rust Belt, including Pennsylvania. A recent study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that fatal drug overdoses in Pennsylvania increased 1,400 percent between 1979 and 2014. The highest rates were seen among white women.

In April, Daniel and Jordan Allott interviewed Cynthia Weber, who’s spent most of her life battling drug addiction. “Quitting is easy,” she announced at one point during the interview. “I do it all the time.”

Cynthia laughed at this line because, she said, if she didn’t laugh, she’d cry. But she still cried — on and off for most of the interview. The tears flowed freely when she spoke about her daughter, Alyssa, whom Cynthia says started down the same road of addiction and abuse at a very young age.

Cynthia’s story one of broken relationships and destroyed lives, of the pain, loneliness, loss and regret from which drugs offered the false promise of deliverance.

When Cynthia spoke to us, she had been sober for 36 days. But her sobriety is very fragile. Almost anything can trigger a relapse: the guilt and stress associated with Alyssa’s drug use and prostitution; the sadness associated with her granddaughters being taken away in closed adoptions; the pain of having a son who barely speaks to her; the regret of having one sister is prison, another who’s dead and another who won’t speak to her.

It is during these moments when Cynthia will sometimes say, “Fuck it. Why am I sober? Why?” And the cycle would begin anew.

Despite all of this, Cynthia saw a higher purpose in telling her story. “Mom’s up there listening,” she said through tears at the end of our interview. “This is probably her proudest moment.”

This video was originally featured as a part of the Washington Examiner’s series The Race to 2020: The people and places that will define a presidency. You can read more about Erie County, see more videos, or use the form below to get email updates about future updates.

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