DUNKIRK, N.Y. — For more than three and a half years, 53-year-old Ken Kendall of Dunkirk has been clean and sober following a 42-year addiction that started when was 8, smoking marijuana.

"…13, I was free basing cocaine, and I found the drug of choice, methamphetamine. when I was 18," he said.

Ken used daily and says he was able to function for years, until his brother died of an overdose in 2014.

"I could no longer hold jobs at that time,” he said. “I pushed my family away, my wife, my kids. I hated everything about myself."

A year after his brother's death, Ken took his addiction to a whole new level.

"Started doing heroin, and fentanyl and meth together and shooting up," he said.

Though he knew the dangers....

"I was trying to die,” Ken said. “I wanted to join my brother, honestly."

Ken overdosed 10 times in one week, and hit rock bottom.

"Behind the wheel of a vehicle doing 123 miles an hour, I OD'ed and hit a parked vehicle in Russel, PA,” he said.

While he only suffered minor injuries, he had a major revelation.

"That was the day I said I need to turn my life around,” Ken said.

In court, Ken admitted he was an addict and asked the judge to send him to treatment instead of back to jail.

"He gave me a gift of life,” Ken said. “He transferred me to Bradford Regional Hospital and that's where the light clicked on."

"A lot of people do work through their addiction and come out to a place of recovery on the other side and we want that message like Ken's,” Steve Kilburn, grant projects director, Chautauqua Department of Mental Hygiene.

Which is why Chautauqua County health leaders are joining others across the state with a new warning about the dangers of fentanyl and a sharp spike in overdoses — many fatal.

"Alarming on the level of lost lives, grieving families,” said Kilburn. “It's heartbreaking."

There were about 60 overdose deaths in Chautauqua County in 2021 — that's a little more than one a week. Non-fatal overdoses were also up about 26%, and also on the rise in Erie, Onondaga and Albany counties.

Kilburn says fentanyl is either being ingested or used to lace other deadly drugs.

"What's happening in the state, that's kind of an unexpected phenomenon, is that heroin has virtually disappeared,” he said. “Of all the overdose deaths we know of in 2022, and have toxicology reports, there's no heroin in their systems. Fentanyl has replaced heroin entirely."

Counties across the state continue to offer a number of resources in prevention, treatment, recovery and harm reduction, like free fentanyl test strips and naloxone.

There's also the Good Samaritan Law, which gives incentive to others in the presence of drugs and hesitant to call 911 if the addict they're with suffers an overdose.

"The Good Samaritan Law protects the folks that call that in from any kind of legal consequences,” said Kilburn.

The consequence or result of Ken's story now finds him overseeing the Mental Health Association in Dunkirk, part of a team that helps others like him.

"Giving back to the community I took so much from, being out there as an addict,” said Ken. “Just because we do bad stuff doesn't make us bad people."

Ken has since reunited with his wife and kids.

"Now I don't just live the best life I could ever live, I'm also living the best life for my brother,” he said.

And he’s grateful for his new lease on life.

"There's nothing more rewarding than to know that you help folks survive a deadly disease,” he said. “Holy cow. What an amazing feeling to have a career where you can use your negative past and create a positive future. I couldn't be more blessed."

If you or someone you know is addicted to drugs and needs help, here is a list of resources:

Or contact Ken at:

Ken Kendall
601 Eagle Street
Dunkirk, NY 14048