PLEASANTVILLE — Andrew Loesser says he would be dead if he hadn’t gotten into a sober home after going through heroin detox just last week.
He has had a heroin addiction for seven years, repeating the cycle of rehabilitation and using over and over.
But the 27-year-old Trenton man hopes this time will be the one that sets him on the path of sobriety. Loesser is the first resident of Steven’s Place, a new sober-living home in Pleasantville run by the Stop the Heroin organization.
Founders Bill and Tammy Schmincke, of Egg Harbor Township, said sober-living homes are needed now more than ever, during a time of increasing drug activity, overdoses and deaths at the local, state and national levels.
“Nobody wakes up wanting to be a heroin addict,” Tammy said. “But it starts with someone getting an injury, getting a pain script after surgery, kids experimenting with what’s in Grandpa or Grandma’s medicine cabinet.”
The state Medical Examiner’s Office says 1,587 people died in New Jersey from drug-related deaths in 2015.
The Schminckes lost their son, Steven, 26, in March to a heroin overdose. They found him unresponsive in their home on Easter weekend.
Since then, the couple has started an organization that promotes addiction education and awareness and raises money to help people transition to sober living after rehabilitation. They said they always had the intent to open their own sober living home. Such homes allow recovering addicts to live in a group setting if they maintain sobriety.
“This house is only here because (Steven) is gone,” Tammy said, tearing up. “People are listening because his story is so important. We need to go further into the trenches to help people and prevent other families from what we went through.”
Mike McGaffney, of Pleasantville, will serve as the house manager for Steven’s Place. Wearing a black sweatshirt that read, “To Hell With Heroin,” he helped Loesser hang shelving and a picture of Steven Schmincke on the wall of the living room Wednesday afternoon.
McGaffney said he hopes to help struggling addicts rediscover sober living, as he did four years ago after struggling with addiction for more than 30 years, some of that time while homeless in Atlantic City. After going through multiple overdoses and resulting comas, he made serious efforts to quit.
“I got sick and tired of what the disease was doing to me,” he said. “I want to help show these people how to live again by example. For us, doing the everyday things is big. We have our own language and try to lift each other up just to get another day clean.”
Loesser, fresh out of a detox program, said gaps in the system made it hard for him and others with drug issues to get into places such as sober living homes. He almost had to go back to his old neighborhood when a placement was delayed, he said.
He would have been right back to using drugs if that happened, he said.
“My mom now knows that I’m living somewhere that’s safe,” he said.
Loesser and McGaffney said they have seen too many friends and loved ones taken by addiction. McGaffney said he watched his brother die many years ago from an overdose. And now that new, more powerful drugs are on the market, others will die as well.
“I know guys are mixing it, becoming street pharmacists,” he said. “And when you hear about someone overdosing from something really strong and powerful, you go out looking for it, because you believe you’re smarter than them and won’t overdose.”
An open house will be held for Steven’s Place at 6 p.m. Thursday at 17 Lehigh Ave. The home can host as many as 10 residents. They are accepting donations in money or items such as food, toiletries, bedding, twin beds and household products.
Loesser said it’s hard to look too far into the future and think about what his life could look like in a year, but what he can do is focus on getting through another day sober — another chance to beat addiction.
“Guys like McGaffney always give me hope,” he said, “but it’s always about the next 24 hours.”