We were talking about death, about the growing number of young people killed by overdoses of heroin and prescription drugs. If anything would scare people away from drugs, I said, it would be the death of a friend. âAre you kidding?â said Philip. âBack when I was selling, if someone Iâd sold to died, Iâd get 10 new customers. They figured I must have the good stuff.â Talk to people whoâve seen the prison of addiction from the inside, and you quickly realize they donât think like the rest of us. Thatâs what happens when you have a disease of the brain. âYou donât think about the danger of overdosing when youâre using,â Leo Henry told me. Leo, 35, is from Somerville, Massachusetts, but now he shares a small cell at the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica. âYou donât think about anything when youâre shooting up heroin,â he said. âYouâre the walking dead, basically.â Itâs no way to live, and a good way to die. Overdose deaths are going up, for lots of reasons: Heroin is cheap â will buy you a bag in many neighborhoods â and it comes laced with fentanyl to increase its potency. Addicts go through a five-day detox â they call it a âspin dryâ â and then go out and shoot the amount they were using before and it knocks them cold. They call it an opioid crisis because it started when doctors starting writing prescriptions for what is essentially synthetic heroin â Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin â with wild abandon. Louis Rosario started using opioids at 17, when he was still a student. He kicked the habit once, he told me, but then came down with leukemia, which meant a return to prescription painkillers and addiction. Heâs 36 now, with both his diseases â the cancer in his blood and the addiction in his brain â now in remission. Heâs using his time in jail to make sure it stays that way. âIâm blessed that I got here,â he said. He has daily classes and group meetings filled with frank, often emotional, talk about who they are, what theyâve done to themselves and their families, and how theyâre going to put things back together again. Jail isnât the best place to receive treatment for a chronic brain disease that often comes packaged with mental illness. But sometimes itâs the only place where an addict can stay safe and sober for the few months it can take for his head to clear. Increasingly, itâs a place where the parents and spouses of addicts turn in desperation for help. They try to find a spot in a treatment program, but there are never enough beds, the rules are too complicated or the care is too expensive. They appeal to a judge for a civil commitment so their addicted loved one can be locked up for his or her own protection. Outside of jail, treatment comes in a variety of forms. It starts with detox, but detox alone is rarely enough. Counseling and mental health treatment has to be part of it, especially since addiction so often goes hand-in-hand with illnesses like depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Drugs play a part in many addictsâ recovery: methadone for those who need the structure of a daily visit to a clinic; Suboxone helps some fend off the cravings, but it can leave you buzzed. Henry says he wants to get on Vivitrol, which prevents opiates or alcohol from getting you high. But pharmaceuticals canât provide the social support that is so critical to getting and staying sober. Thatâs why groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are important â and nothing is as important as family. Michael Fahey, 22, started doing drugs in middle school in his hometown of Hudson. By high school, he had developed an addiction to Percocet. Then the police intervened, charging him with a crime heâd rather not talk about. âJust say I was busted for stupidity,â he told me. That landed him in jail for three days and sentenced to house arrest for a couple of years. âI was lucky,â he said. His parents provided a lawyer who helped him avoid a long prison sentence, and they took Fahey back into their home, where his druggie friends werenât welcome. He also had a good friend â now his fiancÃ© â to stand by him. She and an uncle in recovery got him to his first AA meeting, and he hit four or five meetings a week for the next two years, completing all 12 steps. These days, Fahey doesnât go to as many meetings. He pumps gas during the day and performs standup comedy at night, working some of his story into his humor. He doesnât define himself as an addict anymore. Heâs got a family â his fiancÃ© and her two children â depending on him, and career ambitions that leave no time for getting high and dozing off. I told him Iâve seen studies that show the single most important factor in preventing men whoâve done time in prison from getting in trouble again is a commitment made to a good women â social science again proving what people have known about for millennia: the power of women to civilize men. Fahey laughed and said, âThatâs my story.â Every addictâs story is different, and too many of them end in the grave. But there are success stories as well, more than most people know. An estimated 23 million Americans are thriving in long-term recovery, having learned to hold their diseases at bay. With the right treatment at the right moment, and the right people to help them along, the walking dead can find new lives. Rick Holmes writes for GateHouse Media and the MetroWest Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook at Holmes&Co, and follow him on Twitter at @HolmesAndCo.