Heroin and opioid addiction is an epidemic that affects us all. About 500,000 Americans have died from an opioid overdose in the past 15 years. In the same period, the rate of addiction has risen almost 500 percent.

There are three paths of heroin addiction: incarceration, treatment or death. 

Robert Nunamacher had his first experience at just 18 years old following a snowboarding accident. He was prescribed pain pills and instantly got hooked.

“From there, I just fell in love with it because I preferred the pills over the other stuff,” he said. “And then those were gone and the only thing I knew was the heroin and it was cheaper and more potent.”

Like many addicts, it didn’t take long for heroin to take over.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started at all. Absolutely not. Even with the pain killers, no idea what I was getting into until it was too late,” said Nunamacher. “The feeling is that you don’t care. Anything that happens in your life doesn’t matter anything you are facing doesn’t matter.

“I had no fear of dying of heroin.”

When first interviewed, Nunamacher was serving jail time for petit larceny. He said he stole in order to purchase more drugs.

“It’s cheap and it’s prevalent and it’s potent,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple. “And once they get that first-time high, they chase that high forever —many times, taking their lives.”

No one knows Robert’s cycle of addiction better than his family. His mom Cheryl and sister Casey have grappled with it daily for 12 years.

“I’ve never seen him in his handcuffs or in his orange suit. I think that would kill me,” said Cheryl.

“He never got in any trouble at all. He played football. He played soccer. Probably right up to when he was 18, I would say we had no issues. Great little kid."

But that has since changed.

“I never had any goals in my life except to get as high as possible,” Robert said.

“Maybe I didn’t do anything to cause it, but maybe I could have done something differently,” his mother said. “That’s something you tell yourself every single day. I mean, I had no idea of opioid addiction. No idea. My experience is that sometimes you don’t know how addicted or even if they are addicted until you see somebody withdraw. And I witnessed that and I knew were in trouble here.”

“Every day is different. Some days it would be alright to get high right now and sit around and do nothing. But then I remember to myself what’s going to happen if I do go back. I’ll get out and end up right back in here,” Robert said from his jail cell.

Now out of jail, Robert’s struggle with heroin addiction continues. Hear more of his story in The Cost of Heroin, premiering May 22 at 7 p.m.