LEDYARD, Conn. (AP) — Death wasn't far behind.

That's the part Mark Floyd remembers most from the night he got lucky.?

A year ago this month, he was driving home from Hartford after scoring heroin from a dealer he had never met. He snorted two bags of the stuff, which was cut with fentanyl, and overdosed somewhere in West Hartford.?

Floyd was miserable. He loathed his corporate job and was using heroin to cope. He was a full-fledged addict and had been for four years. His wife, Tiffany, and the first of their two children lived in Utah. She was fed up and had sent him to Ledyard to live with his parents and get sober.?

At one point, before moving to Connecticut, he had gone into rehab. It didn't work. A few relapses later, here he was: Unresponsive, his car smashed against a utility pole in the affluent suburb of Hartford County. When the paramedics arrived, Floyd was blue and foaming from the mouth. It took two doses of Narcan to bring him back.?

"Almost dying is extremely liberating," the 36-year-old filmmaker said. "I have been given a lot of chances, but getting that close to death made me ask, 'What am I doing?' Some people's rock bottom isn't that low, and other people's rock bottom is past death. It was the wakeup I needed."?

Floyd, who still lives in Ledyard, is 11 months clean and, in an effort to raise awareness during the opioid epidemic, has decided to highlight how easy it is to obtain heroin and how difficult it is to get help.

He and good friend Joshua Barclay, 32, started the production company Oustr Media, based in Central Park West in Manhattan. The pair conducted an experiment in Connecticut to see if it was possible to get heroin faster than a Big Mac from McDonald's. They documented the results on video.

"Beating heroin addiction is the hardest thing I've ever done. Through all this, what surprised me is that people don't understand how easy it is to get," Floyd said. "What I don't think many people know is just how much it has infected their backyard. It's no longer an inner city menace. It's reached out into doctors, lawyers, PTA moms, basketball coach dads, and is a shadow hanging in the fringes.?

"There is money to be made, so I have a feeling it will be around for a while. We have to confront the fact that heroin is here for a long time, and it's so much worse than you know."

According to James Gill, the state's chief medical officer, 1,038 people died of overdoses in Connecticut last year, a 13 percent increase from the 917 deaths in 2016. The preliminary data for 2017, released late last week, shows seven of the victims, including two in Southeastern Connecticut, had carfentanil in their systems.?

Carfentanil is an estimated 100 times stronger than fentanyl, which in itself is up to 50 times stronger than heroin.

In January, Norwich Director of Human Services Lee-Ann Gomes told the City Council that 38 residents were expected to die of an opioid overdose in the fiscal year beginning July 1. The count now stands at 19.

"That's out of a population of 40,000 people," Gomes said. "We are No. 3 in the state when it comes to overdose death rates."

Floyd's recovery from the car crash — he escaped with minor scrapes and bruises — included beating an addiction that began 15 years ago after an introduction to pain medication.

Floyd, whose family is Mormon, was born in California, moved to Michigan when he was in the third grade, and then to Chicago in his senior year of high school. After high school, he moved to Utah and his parents moved to Ledyard.

The family's intention in relocating to Connecticut was so he could go to school and work where his parents would be close by for support. He worked at Foxwoods as a bellhop. Floyd said he suffered from job-related back pain and had a prescription for Vicodin. At that point, he wasn't hooked, he said.

Fast forward to 2011, and Floyd began attending the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Long hours on sets, and the stress of living in the city, got to him, he said, and he began taking pain pills again.

"One day, I tried heroin," he said. "It's stronger and cheaper than pills, so what's not to love? Heroin makes you feel as good as a human could possibly feel. It clogs up all your 'feel good' receptors until you can't physically feel any better. It feels so good; people will throw their entire lives away for it.

"Nothing in life should feel that good. Everything else pales in comparison to it. Family, friends, and life take a back seat because they aren't as pleasurable. It is terrifying."

At the end of film school, Floyd moved West for a corporate video job. He moved his family - and his addiction tagged along.

"I was taking anywhere between a gram to 2 grams a day," he said. "And since I was making decent money at the time, I never had to go long without. It was only until the end that I started getting dope sick and desperate."

Getting heroin, he said, was effortless.

"It's super easy to go online and find forums that talk about copping in any city," he said. "It's even easier to go online to the police data and see where most drug arrests happen. Just drive to where it seems like a lot of people are standing outside and drive by slow. There is a certain body language, almost like an unspoken dialogue with open air drug markets."

His friend Barclay, who has been around addiction much of his life with members of his family and co-workers, gave Floyd an ultimatum when he could "just tell" he was using. Barclay said the real story of heroin addiction is it hits real people.

"We're not talking about some unemployed guy who's in a back alley somewhere," Barclay said. "We're talking educated, skilled people who are heroin addicts."

It's why they're writing, filming and producing a pilot series based on a character that mirrors Floyd's life: a filmmaker destroys his life with heroin and sent to live with his parents to try to get clean and find a way back to his wife and children.

"Beating addiction requires doing the one thing that's next to impossible, to change," Floyd said. "To completely change who one is, the motivations behind actions, and the reactions to life. Maybe I'm only speaking about myself, but it's hard to fully understand the reasons we make choices. And to really understand why I was doing heroin, I had to dive into everything I thought I knew about myself. See what the hell my problem was, and what my future problems could be, and to change."

In February, Eastern Connecticut State University hosted a seminar to encourage dialogue about what can be done to combat the American opioid crisis on a local level.

Thomas St. Louis, an epidemiologist with the Connecticut Department of Public Health, called attention to the relationship between workplace injuries and opioid abuse, citing a number of factors that can enable addiction — different levels of access to health care, the severity of an injury and socioeconomic status.

He listed five principles for employers to utilize when handling opioids: identifying the problem early, giving instant support, being flexible, regularly reviewing the situation, and enlisting success in the employee.

St. Louis believes the prevailing judgmental attitude toward addiction and the dynamics of workplace policies need to change.

"We're talking about a person with a disease," he said.

But treating the disease is far from cheap.

"It's easy to get," Barclay said, "but it's not equally as easy to find treatment that is affordable."

Drug and alcohol rehab can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $25,000 or more depending on various factors. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Defense, rehab for opioid addiction costs about $6,552 per year for methadone-assisted treatment, $5,980 per year for buprenorphine-assisted treatment and $14,112 per year for naltrexone-assisted treatment.

"I did it cold turkey," Floyd said. "Alone in a room. The first day sober is always the worst. It doesn't get better until week three or four. That's the honest truth."

Dr. Tiwalola Kolawole, a psychiatrist at The William W. Backus Hospital, talked about the barriers that come with getting assistance from the public, medical industry and family during the seminar at ECSU.

"Stigma, stigma, stigma," Kolawole said. "We all need to talk about this. The bottom line for today is that everybody needs to do something. It's everybody's problem."

During their video experiment, Floyd and Barclay found it took nearly nine minutes to run through a McDonald's drive-thru in Hartford and get a Big Mac. It took 10 minutes in the same city to obtain heroin.

"The focus should be on trying to not let so many people die from it," Floyd said. "The way to combat it is to give hope to those trying to get clean. Heroin users have very little beauty in their life, and heroin just so happens to be really good with that."


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Information from: Norwich Bulletin, http://www.norwichbulletin.com