Gaudenzia Graduates Beat the Odds, Overcome Addiction - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather and Events

Gaudenzia Graduates Beat the Odds, Overcome Addiction

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Fifteen people celebrated being one year clean from drugs and substance abuse on Saturday at the Gaudenzia Erie graduation at the Bayfront Convention Center.

"I never thought I'd be able to stay clean for one day, let alone one year and continue on this path," said Chris Howcroft of Erie, who was addicted to heroin for two years.

The fifteen were selected based on fulfilling criteria such as employment, volunteering, and giving back to the community. They also had to be part of a 12 step program or a church support network, and provide detailed life proposals to a panel of judges.

"With addiction there's always such a huge stigma so it's wonderful to celebrate the success behind it and show there's another side to it as well," said Jodie Klus, an outpatient program director for Gaudenzia.

The "grads" say they've had to change every aspect of their old lifestyles to get to where they are today, and that Gaudenzia played a big role.  

One grad, Dean Klemushin of Erie, had started using cocaine, prescription pills, and drinking heavily at the age of 12. But he beat the odds to become a graduate today.

"It was a whole change of life. They taught me how to be a man, how to keep a job, actually get a job, how to stay clean, how to help people," Klemushin said.

Howcroft agrees.

"The people that I was around, the places I was around, the things I used to do to fill my time, all those things had to change. I had to reinvent my self," he said.

Though Howcraft, Klemushin and their peers are celebrating one year of sobriety on Saturday, the problem of addiction - especially with heroin - is a growing issue in Erie. Gaudenzia's staff says they're seeing more people needing their services.

"We're definitely seeing an increase, especially with younger people too, with heroin and opiate use. It's really important to get out the services that are available to those people suffering and to get them the help they need," Klus said.

Howcraft gives a piece of advice to youths, speaking as someone who has been down the path of addiction.

"Stop now. Stop before it starts. You don't meet old heroin addicts, you just don't because you die," he said. "I've had two friends pass away that I know of in just the last six months from this disease."

The graduates know say the fight isn't over, but say that having a strong support network helps.

"Everybody here has dealt with the same problem. Family members, friends, we all go through the same thing. And when you don't have to carry that weight alone, it becomes a lot easier," Klemushin said.


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