The Bridges in Cambridge was where best friends Charlotte Wilton and Jessica Muranyi met.

It was also where they turned their lives around.

Both had lost everything in their lives when they ended up at the shelter.

"There was never a closed door there. If you made the choice to start bettering your life, they noticed and they helped," Muranyi said.

Wilton nodded.

"We need the shelter to have a safe place to go and I just hope that my story can maybe move them in a way," she said.

The two women spoke at a meeting Wednesday in Cambridge. The meeting also included presentations by those who work with various social service groups and the police about the city's growing drug problem.

Cambridge drug info session Jessica Murani Charlotte Wilton

Jessica Muranyi, left, and Charlotte Wilton are best friends. They met at The Bridges shelter and shared their story with the community meeting. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

'Never thought I'd see 25'

They told their stories to a crowd of about 200 people who had gathered to hear about the issue and maybe get answers about what can be done.

Wilton talked about using drugs and alcohol very young and turning to cocaine in her 30s. Her son was taken from her and she ended up living on the streets.

Muranyi started smoking pot in high school in order to be accepted by her peers because "being smart with frizzy red hair doesn't make you fit in too well."

By 19, she was an intravenous drug user and she "never thought I'd see 25."

Muranyi got the drug use under control, but then started drinking.

"I thought, it's legal and there's no harm in that," Muranyi said of alcohol. She spiraled out of control and found herself at The Bridges.

Cambridge opioid info section

Pennants hung at the front of the room remembering people who have died or giving words of encouragement for those addicted. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Overdoses in community

In March, three men were sent to hospital after a near-fatal overdose. Waterloo Regional Police Service suspected they may have consumed fentanyl laced with cocaine.

Police have said fentanyl could often be mixed in with or mistaken for other drugs. Fentanyl is considered to be 100 times more lethal than heroin.

Opioid overdose death types of drugs waterloo region 2016

This graph shows which drugs were involved in opioid overdose deaths in Waterloo region since 2005. The blue line that goes up dramatically in 2016 is fentanyl. (Public Health Ontario)

According to a report presented to the Waterloo Regional Police Services board in April, police officers sized 624 grams of fentanyl in 2016, compared to just over two grams in 2015.

As little as two milligrams of the drug in its pure form, which is as small as four grains of salt, can kill an adult.

In 2016, there were 38 deaths from opioid overdoses in Waterloo region, 24 of which involved fentanyl. The Public Health Ontario's website continues to track emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths due to opioid use.

Some residents upset

Those who attended the meeting at Trinity Anglican Church in Galt varied in their reasons for being there. Some were workers with social service groups or agencies.

Others were residents, like a couple who identified themselves as Al and Pauline and declined to give their last name.

They moved to Cambridge a year ago and said they are shocked by what they can see from their condo windows – drug deals in the parking lots, people breaking into vehicles and sex acts taking place in poorly concealed areas.

The couple also expressed concern about the discarded used needles being found in the city's parks, pathways and near schools.

Those concerns are echoed on Facebook groups including A Clean Cambridge, which was set up to organize community cleanups of discarded needles.

Meeting people

People in attendance at the meeting varied from those who work or volunteer with social service agencies to residents who want to know more about the growing drug problem. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

'I was judged harsh'

Wilton and Muranyi have seen that anger first hand.

Wilton has spoken out in some online groups, trying to explain what she has been through.

"I was judged. I was judged harsh," she said.

Both women called for people to be compassionate.

"Every person that's out there and that's an addict, they never asked for that. Most of them have never known a sober life. I got that chance," Muranyi said, choking up.

"They need a little bit of care and compassion. It goes a real long way. You take so much energy to be angry."

Wilton, who has been on methadone for six years, said people need to realize programs like the ones offered at The Bridges can change lives.

"Those services are helping," she said. "I really strive to never end up homeless again."

with files from Flora Pan