'I've come a long way': Florida woman finds new hope, passion during drug recovery

After years of drug use and being high, Tina Sizemore remembers her lowest point.

"I got caught with 30 mg oxys. Highway 30 in Ocala," she said. She was arrested and booked into jail.

She keeps that mug shot on her phone as a reminder of where she was not too long ago -- and a reminder of how far she has come.

"A waste of a beautiful person with such a heart. I don’t ever want to be like that again," she said.

In 2021, she was homeless and looking for a place to sleep when she found Bithlo Transformation Village and connected with Tim McKinney, CEO of United Global Outreach and a board member of project opioid, a nonprofit organization to help combat the opioid crises across Florida.

"When I got here it was a transformation really," said Sizemore.

McKinney said stories like Sizemore's are becoming even more common -- and even more are ending with people dying. More than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021 -- a 28.5% increase from the same time period before, according to the U.S. Centers for disease control and prevention.

In that same period, there was also an increase in opioid deaths, most using Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

"Recreational drug users and marijuana users who just think this is not a big deal, it’s OK. And they’re dying," said McKinney.

The Florida Department of Health and federal officials have warned about a new synthetic opioid -- Isotonitazene, or ISO -- which is believed to be 20 to 100 times stronger than Fentanyl.

"It’s a major problem here in Florida, said Justin Miller, intelligence chief with U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. He said the drug appeared in Florida in 2021 and because it's so new, it's difficult for local police agencies to confirm. It also doesn't always respond to Narcan, a spray that can sometimes help in drug overdose cases.

Miller said ISO is the latest new drug, and he expects the illegal drugmakers to continue to develop and distribute more options. He said the risk to people is high as most do not know what's even in the drug, whether it's pill or a powder, and that oftentimes the drug may be a mix of dangerous drugs.

Today, Sizemore has found a new passion in gardening and also others battling with addiction to find the help and resources they need.

"Ah, look at these little babies! I’m sorry — I get so excited," Sizemore said while walking throughout the garden.

"I’d rather make sure they have water and food than to sit somewhere and get high, if that makes sense," she said.