As the region and nation grapple with widespread heroin and opioid addictions, a young woman stood up at a Milford United Way event Wednesday night to show that there is hope for people with addictions, and to say that a revolution is needed to create change.

The young woman identified herself as Emily, just Emily. With long blonde hair, a healthy smile and a trendy white silk blouse, she looked the quintessential college grad or young businesswoman.

A packed dining room of people at the Costa Azzurra Restaurant, there for the United Way Community Builders Recognition Dinner, uttered a breath of surprise when Emily, a keynote speaker, described herself as an Ivy League college graduate, a registered nurse … and a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.

She said her addiction started when she was just 12 years old, and that by 15 she was a daily drinker, looking for something to fill a void inside of her. She drank in the morning and throughout the day to maintain an alcohol buzz, and she kept that buzz going during her high school classes and cheerleading practice. She said the alcohol filled the void.

“Eventually the alcohol stopped working,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine a life without drugs or alcohol.”

She was prepared to take her own life Dec. 5, 2007, with 30 Tylenol with codeine that a doctor had prescribed her. But instead she found a 12-step program that helped her put meaning into her life, see the potential and end her drug and alcohol use. She hasn’t used since.

She talked about a friend who was a healthy athlete until he was prescribed painkillers for an injury and soon became addicted. Of a group of six friends, she said, “I’m the only one who made it to 21.”

“This has to stop,” Emily told the crowd, calling for measures that change prescription drug practices and focus on better treatment for pain management.

She said that groups like Milford’s Prevention Council, which was represented at the United Way event, have made a difference by helping to organize drug take back days, events where people can drop off unused medications so they cannot fall into the wrong hands.

But more has to be done, the stigma has to be lifted, and more efforts need to target a “preventable disease,” she said.

“What if there was no shame?” Emily suggested.

Check back later for more on Wednesday’s event, which honored local community builders.