BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Over the last three years Kern County has seen an increase in opioid overdoses and deaths in our community, and it continues to rise.
Teen Challenge aims to bring hope and healing to men and women suffering from drug and alcohol abuse.
The recovery center here in Bakersfield said fentanyl is impacting more in the community now than ever before.
About 70% of the students that are welcomed into the program are fentanyl users.
Now, Teen Challenge’s Dean of Students said he is using what he learned from his own experience to help others in the community.
“I ended up spending my entire 20’s in jail and prison and was completely strung out on fentanyl and other drugs.”
Matthew Mutchler said for a while fentanyl took him down a dark path.
“I lost the trust of my friends and my family, I had to steal to get what I wanted.”
He was able to recover from his addiction with the help of Teen Challenge years ago, and now helps others recover from their own addictions.
“Now I get to counsel young men and woman and take them down the same path that I got the privilege to go down.”
But Mutchler said now the program is taking in more fentanyl users and said it’s even affecting younger age groups.
“People from the age group of 18-21 really are starting to use this drug but in the last three years people coming in in that age range has almost quadrupled.”
According to the California Overdose Surveillance Dashboard here in Kern County, in 2019, 54 overdose deaths were associated with fentanyl, out of 117 overdose deaths.
In 2020, 139 deaths were caused by fentanyl, out of 222 overdose deaths, and last year, 232 overdose deaths were associated with fentanyl, out of 492 overdose deaths.
“It’s the most addicting drug on the market. Usually, the first time people try fentanyl, it’s in a pill form and they can it anywhere and it’s as easy as just swallowing it.”
Mutchler said Teen Challenge offers recovery opportunities for those who want help.
“A lot of times addiction isn’t going to be beat in one go around and thankfully Teen Challenge is free and so we take people in and give them the opportunity to have a second, third, fourth and fifth chance to have a new life.”
Teen Challenge Graduate Max Schmidt said the program gave him a purpose.
“It helps build a discipline, we have prayer and bible, we have Parise and worship, and class and growth groups, and things that help you grow closer to God and help you discover purpose for your life.”
Mutchler said he is grateful for the things he has been able to accomplish.
“I’m a husband and a father today, a homeowner and these are things that I dreamed of in my addiction, I had the opportunity to minister to kids every week, I run a community group.”
Mutchler said fentanyl has no boundaries and can affect anyone.
He said Teen Challenge is a voluntary and free program that provides one year of residential treatment, re-entry programs, counseling services, and classes.