They’ve seen it all — death, pain, trauma — and they’re on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, which claims lives every day. 

On Thursday, first responders were celebrated by an unexpected group: recovering addicts who at one point saw them as the enemy.

“First responders tonight get a chance to see that their efforts aren’t wasted,” said Paul Curci, an addiction recovery specialist for Blueprints. 

Opioids can drain the life from users, but they also weigh heavily on first responders whose call volume has dramatically increased from the epidemic. 

“Come back a week later, a day later, maybe even the same day and have to Narcan them again,” said George Yaeger, a retired deputy chief with the Philadelphia Fire Department and a recovering addict over three decades clean. 

As taxing as it may be, recovering addicts at the dinner prove that a life saved, no matter its background, is worthwhile and redemption is possible despite common beliefs that Narcan enables addicts. 

“There’s still a lot of people that question if we should be revived, whether or not we deserve the same treatment that everyone else is entitled to,” Curci said. 

“If you had a relative that was dying and you had one thing that could save their life, would you do that?” Yaeger asked. 

Curci said it took several attempts before recovery clicked. He’s now a father, business owner and recovery specialist who wants everyone to have the same opportunities he was afforded. 

“People see junkies dying. We lose friends and relatives, and we need a chance to intervene,” Curci said. 

That intervention may take two, 20, 40 times, but without first responders and a little hope, these success stories couldn’t be told. 

“The situation is, they’re in danger of dying. If we could stop that, then why wouldn’t we stop that,” Yaeger said. 

“It doesn’t really matter how many times it takes somebody to get ahold of this thing. The message is not to give up on them,” Curci said. 

The event was organized by Blueprints and sponsored by Recovery Centers of America at Devon, Elements Behavioral Health, Summit Behavioral Healthcare and Banyan Treatment Center.