AKRON, Ohio - Leonard Mayo's 40-year odyssey with heroin led to a life of crime, multiple incarcerations and near-death experiences.
"It's only through the grace of God that I'm here. I've OD'd several times. I've OD'd and been brought back. I went out in a car and I had a head-on collision from the heroin," Mayo said.
Mayo, 61, now works as recovery coach at Oriana House, the drug treatment facility where he finally got help. He has been sober since April 29, 2008.
His job is to be a motivator and cheerleader for addicts, while providing living proof that people can change.
"I've got a lot of young clients. They've been doing heroin since their teens and they feel like there's nothing else they can do. That's all they know... I have empathy for what they're going through because I've been there, so I know what it means to be addicted," Mayo said.
The Akron resident was introduced to heroin by his uncle at a party in Youngstown when Mayo was only 16.
He got hooked and began committing multiple property crimes, including embezzlement and forgery, to support his habit. He estimates that he spent about 25 years locked up, but turned to heroin whenever he was released.
"Once I got addicted, physically addicted, dependent on it, it was just off to the races."
In 2008, Mayo was arrested again in Youngstown, but asked a judge for help.
The judge agreed to give him "one chance to get his life in order."
Mayo went to Oriana House and got clean.
"I haven't had one relapse and that's a miracle," he said.
Akron police said heroin problems are on the rise. Officers have made hundreds of heroin-related arrests in recent years.
"A lot of of the people arrested are coming from the suburbs. They're coming from Ravenna, Green and Wadsworth. It affects all walks of life. People from Hudson are coming into Akron to buy heroin and getting arrested," said Akron Police Lt. Rick Edwards.
Summit County Medical Examiner Dr. Lisa Kohler said 45 people died from heroin overdoses in 2012, a record number. In 2013, 19 heroin-related deaths have been recorded in the county through July.
Dr. Kohler said the drug is unpredictable and slows down the central nervous system and the heart.
"There's no safe level of heroin so even someone who has used it in the past, every time they use it, they take the risk that they're going to die from it," Dr. Kohler said.
If you or someone you know is battling a heroin addiction, there are agencies available to help. Visit The Ohio Drug Rehab and Treatment Center online or call 800-576-8950. The Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County can also help or call the United Way at 211.