BRADENTON, Fla. -- The war on heroin and Manatee County is ground zero.

Sen. Marco Rubio met with first responders to learn more about the epidemic on Monday.

John Thompson a recovering addict says the solution begins with the addiction.

“I never figured I would live to see 30,” says Thompson.

Yet Thompson overcame 20 years of drug use and heroin addiction.

He says, “I found a couple of 12-step programs. I surrounded myself with a people going in the same direction as myself.”

The 34-year-old father and husband says he’s been clean for 4 months, in a recovery program and running his own awning business. He had tried to kick the habit before but says this last time was different. Thompson says, “This time I did it for me.”

Thompson says he’s proof there’s a better way to live than on drugs but warns finding the drugs is easier.

“Some of the programs are limited, don’t have enough space or room or funding,” says Thompson.

Treating the addiction is where he says legislators should focus -- not arresting their way out of the problem.

Thompson says, “They can do that as much as they want but as long as people want it there’ll always be somebody to sell it.”

“What we are dealing with is a disease,” says Rubio, R-Fla., to the group gathered at Manatee Memorial Hospital. Rubio and other Republican leaders heard from law enforcement and hospital staff who are fighting the heroin epidemic on the front lines.

Rubio says, “People have no idea what they’re shooting into their body.”

Many deaths have been tied to the fentanyl and carfentanil being used to cut the heroin sold on the streets.

The heroin epidemic is taxing law enforcement and hospital resources, too. At Manatee Memorial they’re seeing 15 to 20 heroin-related overdoses a day.

Hospital officials say nearly 1,700 doses of the opiate antidote Narcan also known as Naloxone have been given to drug patients so far this year and some patients received multiple doses.

Thompson says, “I believe someone who gets shot with Narcan should go through a program not released back on the streets to overdose again until they pass away.”

He says treat the addiction first and then we can start saving lives.