Heroin and alcohol were what killed "Glee" star Cory Monteith months after he entered rehab. His fatal relapse this past weekend serves as a warning of how dangerous it is to start using after staying sober.
Rehabilitation experts explain it this way: Imagine a marathon runner taking a break for six months to a year and then trying to put in a 26-mile run on the first day they lace up again.
At the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center, the professionals who help people get clean say some who struggle with relapse will reach for a dose similar to the one they took prior to rehabilitation. While it's still unclear whether Monteith made that mistake, experts say it often becomes an error that is only made once.
Ellie may be a girl from Hudson, Wis., but she says she is not that different from Monteith.
"Right away, there was that craving," she said. "I started looking for it right after that day."
A year ago, Ellie became addicted to heroin and couldn't stop using. So, she checked into rehab. For the next five months, she was clean -- until she relapsed this past weekend.
"I was just not in a very good spot," she explained. "I said, 'Whatever. I don't care.'"
That relapse almost cost her everything.
"My roommate told me it sounded like I was dying," Ellie said.
Now that she survived and has learned about Monteith's death, she told FOX 9 News she knows how lucky she is.
"I'm definitely pretty lucky," Ellie said. "Not a lot of people who do relapse on heroin make it."
Scott Hesseltine, the clinical supervisor at Hazelden, told FOX 9 News that although the clinic has been working to treat addiction for more than 60 years, the number of overdose deaths have been rising in the past several years.
"What happens when people go into treatment and they abstain for a period of time, their tolerance goes down," Hesseltine explained. "You return to use, it's very easy to overdose."
That's why Hesseltine says those who have been through rehab need to be extremely cautious about relapsing, but Ellie says it's a struggle to keep that in mind sometimes.
"When you are chasing that high, you don't think about that," she said. "You don't think it's true."
Heroin is a huge problem in the Twin Cities and nationally. Hesseltine said opiate use jumped 30 percent in the 10 years after 2001. Among the youth population, heroin use has increased 41 percent.
Ellie told FOX 9 News she plans to check herself into rehab again tomorrow, saying she is sad she let her family and herself down.
"It's really not worth relapsing," she said. "I thought it would be a one-day thing and I would wake up and everything would be okay the next day. Not how it works."
So, she's going to seize her second chance knowing full well she may never be so lucky again.
Hesseltine told FOX 9 News rehab can be a lifelong process, and though he knows the phone may seem to weigh a thousand pounds to those who are feeling the itch, he urges anyone on the verge of relapse or struggling with addiction to call someone for help.