Maricopa County uses portion of national opioid settlement for group that helps recovering women

Live & Learn AZ, a nonprofit organization founded in 2012, aims to empower women in the Phoenix metro area and break generational poverty. (Photo by Hunter Fore/Cronkite News)

The “Empower Women” board in the Live & Learn AZ office shows ways the organization helps women, such as relationship building and preventive health care. (Photo by Hunter Fore/Cronkite News)

April Hernandez smiles for a photo outside her workplace on Nov. 30. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/CronkiteNews)

PHOENIX – On Aug. 31, Maricopa County announced it was distributing approximately $2 million in national opioid settlement funds to 12 local organizations. The county prioritized organizations that offer youth prevention and treatment, recovery programs and harm reduction programs. According to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, more than two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths from 2019 to 2021 involved opioids.

Live and Learn AZ, a nonprofit organization that supports women, received $60,000 of those funds. Live and Learn provides education and training to women who have experienced homelessness, domestic violence or substance use disorders, and offers a structured two-year program to help women reach economic independence. The organization offers career guidance, job training, mentoring and financial assistance.

Joselena Cordero, program manager at Live and Learn AZ, said the organization has a policy that women must be six months sober to join a program. She said they do not conduct drug tests, but most of the women are upfront with them.

Cordero said she has noticed that women who do struggle with substance use disorders have a harder time getting through the program and reaching their goals. “We are looking for ways to see how we can accommodate those individuals because we don’t want to be the ones that turn them away, but rather understand that their progress is going to look different from another individual,” she said.

April Hernandez, a former client at Live and Learn AZ, joined the program in June 2020. Hernandez said she had a history of crystal methamphetamine addiction and relapsed in 2021, several months after joining the program.

Live & Learn AZ provides financial education and career training for women in the local community. (Photo by Hunter Fore/Cronkite News)

Live & Learn AZ provides financial education and career training for women in the local community. (Photo by Hunter Fore/Cronkite News)

“My relapse turned into being an active user again,” Hernandez said. “After a few months my partner and I separated. Once I realized I lost my family because I wanted to be using, that’s when Live and Learn was like, ‘No don’t worry about it. We are here for you, we’re going to get over this. You’re going to be OK.’”

Maricopa County data shows the 2021 rate for drug overdose deaths from all drugs is 37.6 per 100,000 residents, a rate that has been increasing since 2012.

Hernandez said amid the pandemic, she started going to Crystal Meth Anonymous classes every night on Zoom. She also said she began participating in the Live and Learn workshops and working to get herself out of debt.

“A lot of times I struggled with it, I was guilty, I was embarrassed,” Hernandez said. “It took getting out from under the shame that I was able to overcome it.”

Hernandez said Live and Learn provided her constant encouragement and support and never made her feel bad about herself. She has now completed and received her Human Resources Certification and has been sober for two years.

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, over 96,700 people die every year from drug overdose, and opioids are a factor in seven out of every 10 overdose deaths.

Cordero said she is currently discussing with her team how to use the $60,000, but that they are thinking of using it for preventive education. She said some of their ideas include getting specialists to come talk about substance use prevention, connecting with rehab centers and 12-step programs, or finding individuals to lead workshops based around drug use education.

“When I was first in Live and Learn, I was skeptical of it,” Hernandez said. “But the fact that they never gave up on me, it was the first time that I really had a team rooting for me. I didn’t realize how much it meant to have someone that encouraged you, encouraged your growth, that applauded every little accomplishment I made. I didn’t really have that growing up, so that was my biggest takeaway.”

(Video by Adriana Gonzalez-Chavez/Cronkite News)
Oakley Seiter(she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Oakley Seiter expects to graduate in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. Seiter has interned as a content creator for Vedara and has written for The Lumberjack as a feature/culture writer.

Adriana Gonzalez-Chavez Ad-ria-na Gooh-n-sah-ley-z Cha-veth (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Cronkite Noticias

Adriana Gonzalez-Chavez expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s in mass communication. She is a well-rounded bilingual journalist with work experience in broadcast, audio, digital and public relations. She has worked with Donor Network of Arizona, PBS NewsHour West and 12News.

Hunter Fore(he/him/his)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Hunter Fore expects to graduate in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in French. Fore has experience as a writer for Phoenix Business Journal and Downtown Devil along with an internship at Times Media Group.

Kevinjonah Paguio(he/him/his)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Kevinjonah Paguio expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in global studies. He has interned at the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism, is now an intern with AZ Big Media and has freelanced.