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Taking drugs can ruin a person's life forever, but sometimes individuals are able to get their lives back on track. This was the case of Rachelle MacKiewicz of Attica, a 19-year-old who lived in Stepping Stones in the Renaissance Campus of Kids Escaping Drugs in West Seneca.

Stepping Stones was established in 1995 and houses a unique program; the 16-bed facility provides a residential rehabilitation program for girls ages 12 to 20 who are in need of treatment for chemical dependency.

Throughout her teen years, MacKiewicz battled an addiction to drugs. She eventually got her life together with the help of Kids Escaping Drugs.

It all started when MacKiewicz was 14 years old and began taking illegal drugs. She was persuaded to do this by an older boyfriend, with whom she no longer associates. At first MacKiewicz occasionally smoked marijuana, but it eventually turned into an everyday habit. She then started to test prescription drugs, such as Adderall and Hydrocodone. At around age 16, MacKiewicz started taking stronger prescription drugs, such as OxyContin.

But her drug of choice became heroin, which she began injecting on a regular basis. MacKiewicz said that at this point in her life, she felt as if she couldn't stop.

Her life then spiraled out of control. Her grades in school began dropping dramatically, along with her attendance. She went from being an honor roll student who was aspiring to a career in medicine to a high school drop-out. She left school her senior year four months before graduation.

In addition, things weren't going well at home. When her parents discovered MacKiewicz's addiction, they desperately wanted her to get treatment, but she refused.

"My life was horrible," MacKiewicz said.

She said the lowest point of her life was when she got arrested at age 18. She was turned in by her father. However, this was the turning point in MacKiewicz's life.

Her arrest precipitated the transition from her life of drug addiction to rehabilitation. She chose rehab over jail time, and she got involved with Kids Escaping Drugs. Through the Face 2 Face program, which encompasses a series of interventions, the organization taught MacKiewicz to be accountable for her actions. Even though all her freedoms were taken away, she thrived in this drug-free environment.

Through MacKiewicz's tough times, her best support came from a girl named Rachel, who enrolled in Kids Escaping Drugs at just about the time MacKiewicz did. They ended their rehabilitation within a week of each other. The two girls became inseparable and encouraged each other to be persistent and steadfast.

In addition, MacKiewicz said her young niece and nephew kept her going because she wanted to be a good role model for them and see them grow up. She developed a better relationship with her family, and they now have improved communication with one another.

She is committed to giving back. She is now helping other kids escape drugs, and is spreading her message at high schools across Western New York.

MacKiewicz, who has earned her GED, is seeking financial aid to go to nursing school. She says she has learned many lessons.

"People say you can do anything you put your mind to; now I know this is actually true," she said.

She says she also learned how strong she is. MacKiewicz advises others who are struggling with drug addiction to reach out to organizations such as Kids Escaping Drugs. She also recommends that students not be afraid to talk to their parents. She says that a relationship with one's parents that includes frequent and possibly painful conversations is better than no conversation.

"I'm sure any parent would want their child to reach out to them before they are burying them," MacKiewicz said. "The best thing is to talk about it."

MacKiewicz recently celebrated one year of being free from drugs. She said it is the highest point in her life. She said Kids Escaping Drugs means the world to her because without it, she believes she would either be in jail or dead. She is thankful to all of those who helped her become drug-free.

The 18th annual Walk for Kids will be held on Sunday to support Kids Escaping Drugs. The event begins with registration at noon at Canisius College's Koessler Center. A 3-mile walk through Forest Lawn begins at 1. For information, call 827-9462, Ext. 314.

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Michael Khan is a freshman at Canisius High School.