ROCHESTER, N.H. —
Drug dealers play a major role in the opioid crisis facing the state, and in addition to supplying the substances being abused, they are often struggling with addiction themselves.
Elizabeth Atwood said she knows firsthand about the downward spiral of substance abuse.
"I don't know when it happened. I think it started with a back injury that I had gotten at work, and I was prescribed painkillers," she said. "And I was doing more and more and more, upping my dosage and upping my dosage. My tolerance built so fast."
At 19, she was a new mother and a licensed nurse's aide. She then turned to selling friends' prescriptions and lost it all.
"I wasn't making crazy money off of it," Atwood said. "I was just doing what I needed to do to support myself, and it ended up in four felonies."
As Atwood was in and out of court, her addiction gained ground. When she got access to heroin, which was cheaper and easier to get, the drug became her life.
"A lot of times, you hear about people 'running together,'" she said. "So there are like these carpools of people that will just go and pick up everyone altogether, because gas is expensive, hitting stores is hard, and you're making sure that everyone keeps from being sick.
"And so I would get into these groups of people that would just run together, so we would go down, we would pick up, we'd come back, share with our friends, go down, pick up -- every day it's the same thing," she said.
Atwood clarified that when she said she would "share" with her friends, she meant that she would sell to her friends.
Now, 29, Atwood is a specialist at SOS Recovery Center in Rochester. With a lot of hard work, she has been clean for several years, with a job, a home and her son back
The former user and dealer offers hope to others, such as Luis Gonzalez, who grew up in New York City, but moved around. He was a member of the Latin Kings gang who became a dealer.
"I did it for a long time," he said. "I made a lot of money. Like, I wanted that money so, so bad, and I used to cherish it, and I wanted it in cash. That was it."
He said he didn't care what happened to anyone.
"I've seen so much, from losing family members to seeing friends murdered in front of me for drugs," he said.
Eventually, addiction caught up with him.
"And then I went into the addiction phase, where every single dollar that I made, including not just money that I made during selling drugs, but robbing people and stealing from my own family, even stealing from my own kids at one point," Gonzalez said.
Despite having a long rap sheet, he said he wanted to get help.
"Currently, I'm in drug court," he said. "I'm on parole. I have open court cases still. I have a lot of family problems, burnt bridges, a lot of family members that I've lost along the way."
Gonzalez and Atwood now speak about hope and becoming productive members of society.
"I honestly thought the only way out was jail or death," Atwood said.
"I've been sober since 2014," Gonzalez said. "Sept. 23 is my sobriety date, and I kind of owe it to drug court."
Both pointed to the importance of the growing recovery community.
"My message is always that there is hope on the other side," Atwood said. "There is a recovery revolution going on, so if you want help, it's here, and it's attainable."