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From addict to counselor: How one woman provides peer counseling at OHSU

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Many of us have friends or family members who have felt the effects and heartache of drug addiction, but one woman gives us hope that life can be turned around.

O’Nesha Cochran is using her life experiences as a bridge for others on their road to recovery.

Related: There's hope for freedom from opioid addiction

She works side by side with doctors and medical staff at Oregon Health & Science University. Her background got her the job, but it wasn’t medical school. Her life experience, as harsh as it was, is why she is so valuable to the team.

“I’m 40,” she said. “So using drugs at the age of 13, and having been to prison for 15 years, and now have five years clean, and work at OHSU, it’s like, how did you do that? What did you do in your life, and what can you do to help motivate other people to do the same?”

Cochran is a peer counselor at OHSU for Project Impact. It’s a program where physicians work with social workers and mentors like Cochran to help patients get on the road to recovery.

“Having a peer mentor, someone like me, who can speak their language and say, I know what that’s like, I know what that is like to be compelled to prostitute yourself to get high. I know what that’s like to couch surf because you’ve burned all your bridges,” said Cochran. “But this is what my life looks like today, and this is what your life could look like if you just admit the defeat.”

She is often the person at the hospital who an overdose patient connects with the most, and with her support, she encourages them to turn their life around.

“I feel like this is why God allowed me to survive everything I have survived to be here. This is why he gave me my voice that I have,” Cochran said. “If you get that one success, it puts you on a high, and it gives you motivation to keep going because you know it’s possible.”

Cochran is one of two peer counselors at OHSU.