I lost my son, Nick Rohdes, to a heroin overdose on Feb. 12 at my home in Levittown, Pa. Nick was born on Dec. 12, 1989, and was raised in Colts Neck. He loved New Jersey, its shore, the Yankees and the Giants.
Nick completed his rehab program at Seabrook House in Bridgeton in early November last year. He was on probation for a crime committed to sustain his heroin habit, and the conditions placed on his probation did not permit him to leave New Jersey. That meant he was not able to move in with me in Pennsylvania, so I needed to find him a sober-living house in New Jersey.
A week after he completed his rehab, I personally took him to a sober-living home in Trenton. He seemed to be thriving there. He had found a job at a local gym and had even managed to finance his own car. He looked better than he had in months and seemed happy, humbled and at peace. He moved to another sober-living home in Lambertville on Feb. 2. Ten days later he was dead.
Based on my son's texts, sometime around Feb. 4 or Feb. 5 he relapsed and started using heroin again. The folks at the sober-living house found out about this. All sober-living houses require that residents refrain from using drugs or alcohol. Anyone who breaks this rule is evicted from the home.
I don't have a problem with this rule. I do have a problem with evicting a person from a sober-living home because he/she is using and not contacting or alerting anyone about this.
After my son relapsed and was given the option to go into rehab or leave, he chose to leave. According to his texts, he didn't want to go into rehab because he didn't want to lose his job and car, yet again.
He asked to stay with me for one night. The reason he gave me was that my home was closer to his job, and he had to be in early the next the morning. A storm was approaching, and he didn't want to chance it. He also stated that he needed a break from the house. When he came to my house, he did not look high, nor did he look agitated. He kissed me goodnight and told me he loved me. The next morning, I found him dead. He was blue and cold to the touch. Apparently, as soon as he knew I was asleep, he shot up and overdosed. Seeing the lifeless body of your child is something I wish on no one.
New Jersey needs to institute a measure similar to Florida's Marchman Act, which permits a person to be admitted for assessment or treatment for substance abuse against his or her will. Perhaps if New Jersey had this statute, my son would be alive today.
I also want state legislators to take a hard look at these so-called sober-living houses or recovery homes. There is absolutely no oversight here. Kids who can barely manage their own addictions are made managers to manage the addictions of other kids. Once the kids break the rules by using drugs again, they're being thrown out without any accountability. No one is being notified. No family member, no social worker, no parole officer, no one.
These young men and women suffer from a disease called addiction. This disease cannot be cured by willpower. Saying that it is an addict's decision to use or not is akin to saying that it is a schizophrenic's decision to hear or not hear voices. When a person relapses, they need help and support, even if it means going to rehab against their will.
There has to be accountability at these houses. They charge a lot of money - $625 a month for the "privilege" of sharing a room with two or three other guys. Do the math. That's a lot of money these houses are raking in. They promise to help these kids get on the right path, but if the kid falls off the path, then they wash their hands of the whole thing.
Please understand that I support sober-living houses. They are an integral part of the recovery process. More often than not, the addict is better off there after being released from a rehab center, rather than going back to the old neighborhood. But there has to be better oversight of these homes.
I blame the whole system for failing my son - the medical establishment, society's penchant for stigmatizing addiction, the judicial system that punishes users instead of committing them to rehab and psychiatric care, the families (myself included) who practice tough love instead of educating ourselves on the disease and fighting to find a cure.
But I don't want to point fingers. I want to find solutions. I urge anyone whose loved one is an addict to contact me to brainstorm and to start a campaign to end this epidemic that is destroying our children and our future.
Alba Herrera lives in Levittown, Pa. Readers can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.