Right now, a lot of families in the Tampa Bay area are living through the nightmare of losing a loved one to heroin abuse. The concerns are growing in Manatee County, where new deadly cocktails of heroin and something called carfentanyl, an elephant tranquilizer, are hitting the streets. That's why many families impacted by addiction are coming together, to raise awareness and hope.
In downtown Bradenton, dozens gathered Saturday night writing messages, and sharing photos to honor the lives of those lose to heroin.
"You know, you think you're only hurting yourself. You don't realize you're so many other people, your family, your friends.," said recovering addict Erin Frazer.
That's becoming a personal experience for many in Manatee County, where 150 people have died of heroin overdoses in the last year.
The group "No Longer Silent" is hoping to wipe away some of the stigma of being a recovering addict or loved one affected by addiction.
"A lot of people have that old fashioned, 'It's not going to happen to me attitude,' because it can," Gerrie Stanhope with No Longer Silent.
That's how Hailey felt until her mom's fiance died using heroin laced with fentanyl just two months ago.
"I think about it night. I think about who I lost. That he was somebody to me, too," said Hailey.
Through their deep pain, many of those gathered, know there is hope for heroin addicts. For Erin Frazer, finally getting clean, meant going to jail.
"I was like, 'Please God, help me, please.' And that next morning, by the grace of God, I got turned in. They only gave me 30 days. I plead out to drug court, and it's an amazing program. Amazing. It's really saved my life," said Frazer.
But she, and many of the other families affected, know more help is needed. They'd like to see stiffer penalties for drug dealers, and more rehab centers that take uninsured or Medicaid patients. Because she also knows, there can be life after addiction.
"It's awesome. I get to wake up every morning, make a choice to get up and go to work, and I get to be in my daughter's life. I get to make choices every day," said Frazer.
With every step they take, the group hopes by not being silent, they might just help end the heroin epidemic.
If you'd like to get involved, the group "No Longer Silent" meets the third Saturday of each month, at 11 a.m. at the main branch of the Manatee County Library.