BELLE MEAD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The United States hit a dark milestone as the nation’s drug epidemic reaches levels never seen until the pandemic.

There were more than 100,000 overdose deaths in a year.

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CBS2’s Jessica Layton spoke to a New Jersey woman who battled addiction and is now helping others in their fight to stay alive.

“I have, by the grace of God, stayed sober since September the 26th in 2012 … So that is the first day I woke up without a drug,” addictions counselor intern Delvoris Bryant said. “It was freeing.”

If anyone understands how difficult it is to claw your way out of substance abuse, it’s Bryant.

“How did you finally?” CBS2’s Jessica Layton asked.

“That’s nothing but the grace of God,” Bryant said.

ADDICTION RESOURCES:

After years of struggling with a heroin addiction, her epiphany came nine years ago while sitting on the steps of a church in Newark. The 50-year-old’s gift of sobriety led her to what is now her life’s work — helping others at the Blake Recovery Center in Belle Mead.

“I wound up in a halfway house in the area and heard about the opportunity to work here,” Bryant said.

She’s seen firsthand the pain and tragedy endured by those suffering during the pandemic.

New data shows more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. from April 2020 to April 2021. It’s a record and a 28.5% increase from the year before. Overdose deaths from opioids climbed past 75,000.

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Jonathan Drescher died earlier this year. His mom says he was sent home early from a treatment center with no aftercare plan.

“He went home and he used and he died that night,” Lori Drescher said.

Darion and Dowana House lost their 18-year-old in July.

“It’s hard to even put in words the difficulty of me going on without my son,” Darion House said.

“A lot of individuals that are getting caught up as a result of what’s been going on with the pandemic, with COVID-19, with homelessness, unemployment and looking for relief,” said Luis Laboy, director of addiction services.

Doctors and counselors don’t expect the crisis to get better in the short term.

“It all boils down, there’s only two options. Either I quit and I get better, or the alternative that we see in those 100,000 deaths,” Bryant said.

Bryant’s message to those who are where she was ten years ago? Take the chance on recovery.

“Chances still exist as long as you’re still breathing,” she said.

A nationwide shortage of naloxone, or Narcan, which reverses overdose symptoms, is exacerbating the crisis. Doctors blame manufacturing problems and high costs.

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CBS2’s Jessica Layton contributed to this report.

CBSNewYork Team