HUNTINGTON W.Va. (WSAZ) -- In this region, we know firsthand the seriousness of the drug epidemic and how deadly it is.
Heroin laced with other dangerous substances, such as fentanyl, are killing people. But so is a drug that recovery addicts say users think is safer, when in reality it's killing people at staggering rates.
It's not a new drug, in fact it's been around for awhile, but never as deadly as it has been lately. First responders say they're seeing meth like they never have before.
"Meth has exploded," said Boyd County Coroner Mark Hammond.
"They think it's a better alternative than heroin," says recovering addict Anthony Dooley. "A lot of people actually use meth to come off heroin."
Dooley, who's 10 months clean, says meth was one of his drugs of choice.
"I didn't know the harm that I was causing and that I was causing myself," Dooley said.
And it seems a lot of meth users don't realize that harm either.
The Center for Disease Control ranks all three states in our region in the top five for fatal drug overdoses in 2017. Kentucky ranked fifth, Ohio second, and West Virginia took the tragic top spot.
When it comes to meth overdoses in Kentucky, state officials say the number of deaths grew dramatically from 255 in 2016 to 357 in 2017.
Counties across West Virginia have seen alarming totals, too. From 2014 to 2017, Cabell County's numbers jumped from just two to at least 45 in a year. Kanawha County saw a similar boost, going from 11 to at least 55 in that same window.
Hammond says that's because fentanyl is getting mixed in with the meth, but users aren't realizing it. He adds he's even seen reports of fentanyl mixed with marijuana.
"In this county we hardly saw meth four, five, ten years ago," Hammond said.
As alarming as these numbers are, they're growing even further. Kentucky health officials say Boyd County ranked fourth in the state for overdose deaths per capita in 2017 with 31 deaths. Hammond says 2018 has already surpassed that with at least 36.
But they could be worse. Hammond credits resources like Narcan and needle exchange programs for keeping users from sharing needles and spreading diseases such as HIV, and Hepatitis A, B, and C, which could easily add to those numbers.
So with changing times, and a shift in the drugs, what's being done to get ahead and save lives? Hammond says it won't be an overnight success, and in fact requires several trips back to the drawing board.
"We try to be as proactive as we can. If we can help save one person, then we're doing our job."
This is where addiction treatment centers like Recovery Point come in to play. It's who Dooley turned to earlier this year after several close calls with death.
"I laid in the floor, heart pounding," Dooley recalled. "I honestly thought I was going to die. I laid there and I remember just praying, 'Please let me make it through this.'"
Recovery Point officials say they're always thinking of ways to reach out and bring people off the streets and to recovery. One method is putting recovery coaches in local emergency rooms, as well as at jails. This way they can intercept an addict before they get back to using after being released.
Once in recovery, Dooley has taken on a motivation role for others in recovery by pushing them to be the best they can be.
"One thing I've learned is the things I've done in the past, I cannot change," he said. "However what I can do is be a light to somebody else. Show them and lead by example, and show them that you can overcome this disease that we have."