WAUKESHA -- In Wisconsin, an average of two people die every day from drug overdoses. One man is trying to act as a beacon, and lead fellow addicts out of the darkness.
Paul Poetsch knows all too well the stigma surrounding drug addiction.
“We’re viewed as dirtbags, so to speak," he said on Thursday, August 31st. "That we don’t care about anything. That we’re pieces of crap, and that’s not the case by any means.”
On Overdose Awareness Day in Waukesha County, 60 butterflies were released in honor of the 60 confirmed drug-related deaths in the county in 2016 -- 53 of them opioid-related.
“It is terror. It’s trauma, and it's pain," said Waukesha County Board Supervisor Christine Howard, who has lost a brother and nephew to drug abuse. "And it’s pain.”
Poetsch might have become a statistic himself.
“In November of 2011, my best friend overdosed at my house," Poetsch recalled, calling it a day he'll never forget. "The paramedics were called. He was revived and we were both charged with possession.”
He entered Waukesha County’s Drug Treatment Court, and is one of 86 people to graduate from the program since it was created in 2012.
“In many respects, [it is] the last hope for these individuals who are at significant risk for either dying or going to prison," said Chief Judge Jennifer Dorow.
“We want to see more recoveries and fewer deaths," Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow said. "That’s what this is all about.”
Poetsch is now approaching five years clean, and is a mentor for people currently in drug court.
“A lot of times, the only help that can really save us is help from another recovering addict, because they’re the only ones that understand, and can really share their experience and help us," Poetsch said.
While Poetsch continues to heal, he said his friend lost his own battle with addiction in July -- a sobering reminder of how difficult each individual journey can be.
In addition to Thursday's ceremony, the county is hosting a candlelight vigil in the evening back at the Waukesha County Courthouse. While the butterfly release honored the 60 lives lost, the vigil will also celebrate the hundreds of lives saved through the program.