DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — Since the peak of the opioid epidemic in 2017, the Miami Valley has been making strides in the fight against fentanyl.

Public health officials attribute some of that success to the partnership with law enforcement and the realization that they can not “arrest” their way out of this epidemic.

Cleave Baker is walking proof of the shift in policing and changing the focus to individual health. The fact that Baker is alive to tell his story is a miracle in itself.

Fighting Fentanyl

Like many adults, Baker kickstarts his mornings with a cup of coffee. “Got to have coffee, first,” says Baker. “Nothing gets done without caffeine.”

It’s routine for many, but for Baker, he refuses to take it for granted. He admits, “I was probably just one shot away.”

In 2015, the height of the national opioid epidemic, Baker found himself on the steep, slippery side of his addiction.

“Dreams were lost. The ability to care for others was second to the addiction of the drugs.”

Baker was homeless, in and out of jail, prison, and treatment centers. He suffered overdoses. His life was destroyed.

It was the bottom of the bottom of the barrel, and Baker had only one direction to go from there. “I wanted to rebuild from that,” Baker says. “To realize I had estimable qualities, and I was worthwhile, and I had something to offer.”

It took time and work, but Baker found his “estimable qualities” and got clean.

“I know I’m fortunate,” he says, “and I know I’m not here by mistake.

“I have a purpose.”

Now he wakes up every morning hoping to help those who are using and addicted, to find theirs as well. “It’s a responsibility cause I very well couldn’t be here today, but I’m supposed to be.”

Baker is a “Peer Supporter” in Recovery Services with Public Health Dayton and Montgomery County.

He used to hit the streets looking for his next high. Now, he hits sidewalks, steps and porches, knocking on doors and hoping the user on the other side is ready for help.

His workday starts by cautiously checking his email inbox. “My first thought is, ‘I hope no one died of an overdose while I was sleeping. Am I going to get somebody into treatment who desperately wants it? Am I going to get to the hospital too late?’ “

Over the past two and a half years, Baker has had many doors closed in his face, but he says he will not stop fighting to open doors for others struggling with addiction and mental health issues.

Baker witnesses plenty of victories as well. It’s “Very rewarding when you can meet an individual who suffered an overdose in the hospital and then get them connected with treatment and then see that individual come out of treatment and flourish with recovery.

“I can’t think of anything that I’ve done more rewarding in my life.”

Baker knows while he continues a successful recovery himself, he admits he won’t do this perfectly. He acknowledges one of his biggest areas of growth is knowing imperfection does not equal failure, saying of the pursuit for perfection: “That’s impossible.”