SAFFORD, Ariz. (KSAZ) - According to a recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General's Office, nearly 13 million Americans misused prescription pain relievers last year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says three out of every four heroin users started with prescription opioids first.
The frightening pattern is gripping big cities and small towns across America, and one town in Eastern Arizona has felt the pain more than most.
Safford, Arizona. It's a town that is a three-hours east of Phoenix, and looks like every small town in America.
And a place where secrets have nowhere to hide.
Jan Napier came to Safford in the 80s from Wilcox, and loved the idea of raising her family in the shadow of Main Street, USA.
"It was a lot like the community I grew up in, small town and you know most everybody," said Napier. "The kids play in the street, and you didn't have to lock your doors. It was just a quiet little town."
Napier's family was happy, and her youngest son Chris was just like every young boy in rural America.
"He was my little cowboy," said Napier. "He wanted to be a cowboy from the time that he got old enough to know what a cowboy was. He had boots almost at the time he could walk."
Chris loved horses, and loved Baseball.
"When he was little, he would watch Randy Johnson pitch, and then he would go work for hours trying to pitch just like Randy Johnson. And he was a very good pitcher," recounted Napier.
As the town began to change, however, Napier's little cowboy, by then a teenager, became sick.
Chris was handcuffed by an addiction to opiates.
"For about six months, he struggled to stay clean," said Napier. "He struggled with severe depression and suicidal thoughts, and I really feel like those came from withdrawing from the opiates."
The withdrawal made it impossible for Chris, and made life difficult for the Napiers.
"He had mood swings, major mood swings, and so you weren't really sure but he wasn't as noticeable," said Napier. "A lot of the time I didn't even know, and I couldn't tell if he was using or not."
Chris tried to quit once again, five years ago.
"He was at my house and had dinner with my daughter," said Napier. "I came home before he left and talked to him for a few minutes. The next morning, I got the call that they had found him. He had gone into the bathroom and used again, evidently, Tuesday night and as he turned to walk out he slumped over and he was gone. He was just kneeling in the bathroom when they found him."
At the age of 24, drugs took Chris Napier's life.
"I can remember running from the car, and the officer tried to stop me," recounted Napier. "I said, 'that's my son!' and I ran in. My life will never be the same, because a piece of it is gone."
Chris Taylor, who hit rock bottom after serving in Afghanistan, described addiction.
"The only way I can describe it to people is that it's just a living nightmare," said Taylor. "Your every waking moment has to be dedicated to finding your next drug, your next hit."
Taylor, however, found a way out of his heroin addiction.
"I was just involved in a lot of things in the community, and I was seeing results with my organization and with other people, and I had this idea that I wanted to take it a step further," said Taylor.
Taylor eventually ran for City Council, and won. With new motivation, he is leading the Safford charge to help others fight drug addiction.
"We learned about this program from Facing Addiction, this community pilot program," said Taylor. "I was like we might as well put an application in, I don't expect we'll get picked."
Facing Addiction is a national non-profit that will help secure local funding, and help train advocates on techniques to help addicts recover. 15 cities were on the list, and Safford was one of them, along with Chicago, San Diego, and Baton Rouge.
With the program, Safford will get access to local funding, in an effort to help addicts out of rehab transition back into normal life.
" We have an issue," said Taylor. "We have a problem with addiction, and I don't think it's worse than anywhere else. But I think what's special about it, maybe a year ago, the community decided to stand up and make a difference and to come, to not be silent anymore."
Safford has a big problem with drugs that has ravaged the town, and shaken its core, and the one big thing people like to fix before anything else is that perception that those who are addicted to drugs are from the "wrong side of the tracks".
"One of the biggest barriers to that is that stigma that surrounds it, that you can't be helped. We need to just lock up all the people who struggle with addiction and we have seen that does not work," said Taylor.
"They don't realize how big our problem is, especially when it's prescribed medicine, they don't think anything is illegal. So why is that a problem?" said Raegan Maylen, who lost her father three years ago, after years of battling addiction.
Despite the problem, people say they are not moving.
"This is where all my family is, this is where I grew up," said Isaac Tapia. "I mean, I think if you do it right it's a good place to raise your kids, you know. If you take care of your kids right, raise em right this is not a bad place at all."
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