BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Amid sun-splashed broken buildings on Buffalo’s west side were the broken dreams of Brianna Cormier.
“Not showering for days, not taking care of myself, having bruises all over myself and not knowing from what because I’d be running into things because I’d be so messed up,” Cormier said, remembering the last time she used nearly 21 months ago. “It took me to an animalistic level of living, where I was just a shell of a human being.”
The 24-year-old meandered the streets of the west side in search of a new way in the same high — what’s become an all too common death march for western New York’s drug users, and an everlasting pitfall for families affected by the disease.
“Drugs were my food,” she said. “I was very malnourished. I didn’t eat. All I would do is drink water. And then I would drink water, and then I’d get sick.”
News 4 first met Cormier in February, as the county kicked off a task force directed at loosening the undiscriminating grip opiates has on local neighborhoods.
“It gets to the point where I want that bag with the fentanyl in it,” she said. “I want to get as messed up as I possibly can. And it’s so sad because it can be that one bag that kills you.”
While Brianna’s gotten better, the region’s drug problem has only grown worse, with overdoses every week approaching the double digits, accompanied by mounting death.
In her dimmest hours, blinks of light; squatting in run-down homes on those streets, hope among the haze, rocketing toward rock bottom.
“I realized that I had all these goals, all these ambitions, these dreams, and I would literally sit in a dark apartment and nod my life away,” she said.
Realizing how far she’d fallen – and how far she’d have to travel to return – Brianna sought help.
She would have to fail more than once before succeeding.
“The disease is aggressive, incurable and fatal,” she said. “And it is cunning and baffling. I have a disease that tells me I don’t have a disease.”
Now, she’s helping others, and getting help herself.
Brianna has earned yet another chance – at least in the eyes of her newest employer: Buffalo developer Carl Paladino.
“That world is a very frustrated world,” Paladino said. “I think this opiate scourge is a horror on our community, a horror on our families.”
And on his own as well. Paladino’s own son struggled with addiction.
“I didn’t lose my son to drug addiction,” he said. “I lost my son who was suffering from an addiction, who had just made that commitment, and was just back from it, and the whole world was at his feet.
“And then an automobile accident took him. That kind of loss to a family can be devastating.”
Paladino buildings rely on sound foundations; just like the handful of his employees who rely on steady work as a foundation on their life in recovery.
“I think from my experience that everybody should get a chance, an opportunity, to get off of it,” he said. “And the simple promise of a job by somebody that recognizes that, that simple promise that, I’ll give you a job, but this is what you have to do first.”
Cormer is grateful for that promise, and gains strength from its stability.
“Today, I have purpose,” she said. “Today I look forward to waking up in the morning, and when I do wake up, I’m not thinking, OK, what do I have to do to not use drugs anymore.”
Struggling she is not. She is mindful and self aware, thankful and driven to become an example, rather than a statistic.
“We didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I’m going to be a drug addict. And I’m going to go and do everything I can to just destroy my life,'” she said. “It becomes very progressive. A lot of times, for me, I never thought it would get to the point that it did. But it did, and I’m grateful for that pain and that struggle, because if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t take recovery as seriously as I do.”