He expected to die by 35. Now, he's helping save lives in one of the biggest US crises

He expected to die by 35. Now, he's helping save lives in one of the biggest US crises

LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Imagine living today fully expecting to die tomorrow.

"I'm a child of the 60's. I came along when it was hip, slick, and cool to listen to rock and roll and do drugs."

That was the nine-year reality for Frank Sheheen.

"I would tell people I won't live to be 35," Sheheen said. "My thinking was that I would die. I felt like I was living on borrowed time. That my addiction was such that it would kill me eventually."

From the age of 26 until he got sober at 35, Sheheen lived a cycle of desperation. He said the doubt was always there -- never knowing whether or not he'd make it to sunrise. His first drug of choice was marijuana before he eventually turned to heroin. He said he remembers doing whatever he had to do to get it. That's not the only part he remembers.

"The desperation," Sheheen said. "The knowing that I was addicted and in trouble, yet knowing and feeling that there was no way out."

Years later and on the other side of his addiction, Sheheen is now a recovery counselor at LRADAC, a group that creates pathways to recovery for individuals families and communities in the Midlands.

He works specifically with professionals fighting their addictions. Sheheen is noticing the highs he sees are bigger, and the stakes are deadlier than ever. No doubt, he said, the opioid crisis is here.

"It's growing," Sheheen said. "It's not getting any better."

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, as well as synthetics such as fentanyl and other pain relievers available legally by prescriptions like oxycodone, hydrocodone, Vicodin, codeine, and morphine.

Some are used for medical purposes – while others, when mixed together, are causing a drastic spike in tallies at coroners' offices around the country.

"Sometimes it's still called 'Tango and Cash' or 'China White,' 'Murder Eight.' Those are some of the street names," Sheheen said.

Sheheen is referring to heroin cut with fentanyl or carfentanil. Carfentanil is a potent derivative of fentanyl. Carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl, which is already 100 times stronger than morphine.

Just one grain of carfentanil can be lethal when injected, ingested or even accidentally touched. The scary part: someone buying their heroin on the street may not know fentanyl or carfentanil is even in it.

"We're now and have for several years now, having fentanyl imported into the country from overseas and Mexico. And it's bootleg fentanyl," Sheheen said.

According to law enforcement officials, dealers will routinely cut their heroin or other product with fentanyl or carfentanil. Much less fentanyl is needed for someone to get high, and those customers are always searching for the higher high.

"You don't know what's in it. Somebody buying heroin today doesn't know how pure it is, and if it's cut with fentanyl."

According to DHEC, the drug overdose death rate in South Carolina has increased by three folds since 1999. Males, especially white males, are 40 percent more likely to die of a drug overdose than females. In Richland County alone, 44 people have already died from an opioid overdose in 2017, which already tops 2016's death toll.

"One of the saddest things about people who are addicted to heroin…there's the subculture," Sheheen said. "And they hear that someone died from an overdose of heroin, they're gonna try to find that. That's the heroin they want. Because if it's good enough to kill somebody, then it must really be good."

For Sheheen, a recovering addict living beyond the wheel of addiction, he works hard every day to help others battling their own demons.

As the opioid crisis continues to grow, he wants others to know that for them - there's always a way out before it's too late.

"Every night I show my gratitude," Sheheen said. "I thank my higher power for another day alive, and another day clean and sober."

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