At left, Sayja Nerlson performs a song she wrote titled "Arlana," about a recovering heroin addict's journey. At right, Rachel Justice paints a portrait during the International Ovedose Awareness Day on Saturday in Mansfield.

MANSFIELD -- Nearly three years ago, Arlana got lucky.

Up until the day she began getting sober, she had been using opioids and benzodiazepines regularly for 15 years.

"I overdosed two times, went to jail multiple times, pills -- several, lots of times," Arlana said. "I went to rehab eight times, four times in detox."

Then, one day, she said, she just didn't want to use anymore. She walked in to Healing Hearts Counseling Center at 680 Park Avenue West and started the program.

"I tell everyone, I got sober by accident," she said. "I just didn't want to use that day.  I literally walked in that day because they had a walk-in open.

"I didn't use that day and it just kept going."

Arlana said there was a relief she feels now serving as a volunteer for Richland County Children Services. She has regained custody of her two children and has a full time job.

"I'm a productive member of society," she said with a smile.

Arlana and nearly 25 members of the community gathered at the Richland Academy of the Arts on Saturday for the fourth annual International Overdose Awareness Day.

"The purpose of today's event is to recognize the people in recovery and to also provide a safe space to remember those we've lost," said Traci Willis, in charge of the annual event in Mansfield. "This event is recognized around the globe."

The opioid epidemic is not going away anytime soon, said Valarie Rust, an in-take coordinator at Starfish Project. Her booth at the event stated, 'one in three Americans are in recovery.'

"The drugs are very fluid," she said. "When we originally started this, we would occasionally see one heroin addict, then we saw an influx of heroin addicts. Now we see poly-substance disorders -- people on multiple drugs and who are very opportunistic. It continues to morph."

Rust became involved with the opioid crisis when the Ontario police department called her about her son, who she thought was at football practice.

"They said he was high, but didn't know what he was on."

The Rust family tried to help, but eventually had to kick their son, Jessie, out of the house.

"We were essentially just a safe place for him to die," Rust said.

On his own, her son found recovery and eventually got sober. His success led the family to the Adult/Teen Challenge.

"He's been sober for 14 years and he's a pastor in St. Louis," she said. "The Program changed who he was and it changed who we were."

The Starfish Project works with the Richland County Sheriff's Office. The first Team Challenge program started through the Huron Sheriff's Office.

This year, Rust said, her organization has spent $11,000 to help addicts become sober.

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Staff Reporter

Noah Jones is host to The Open Mic Podcast -- available on Apple Podcasts! He is the crime, education and music reporter for Richland Source. He is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and a giant Cardinals fan.