Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Thursday, May 12, 2016
New Jersey's Nick's law named after a Bucks County man who died of an overdose
Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2016
In the shower that horrible morning, Alba Herrera recited a quiet prayer for her oldest son.
“Please God, help my son make the right decision. Please keep him on the right path.”
Nick Rohdes had gotten sober five times in four years. He had hit bottom so many times that Herrera had wondered if the 24-year-old would ever find his way back for good.
But this time, the Middletown woman was feeling more hopeful than she had in the past. Rohdes liked his new recovery house, where he was offered a position as manager. He also was doing well in his new job as a membership consultant at a gym.
The night before, he asked to spend the night at her apartment. The forecast called for snow, her place was closer to his work, and there was an early 12-step group meeting he could attend before he went to the gym. Herrera remembered thinking her little boy was behaving like a responsible adult.
As she prepared to leave for work the next day, Herrera noticed Nick wasn’t sleeping on the couch as usual. Then she saw a light near her work area across the living room.
She found Rohdes seated behind her desk. His lips were blue, his skin was cold, his toes were stiff and curled. Later, she found a clear plastic bag nearby. It was stamped “Game Over.”
Finding her son dead of a heroin overdose wasn’t the only shock Herrera experienced on that February day two years ago. She soon learned that the day before, he had been kicked out of the Lambertville, New Jersey, recovery house where he was living. No one told her had been evicted for using drugs.
Later, she learned the recovery house program that had sounded so promising on its website -- with amenities like a gym, computers and assigned mentors for $650 a month -- was an unlicensed boarding home, according to the state of New Jersey.
Two years later, Herrera has more questions than answers about the weeks before her son’s death.
Why did her son’s name stop appearing on the house’s mandatory sign-in log two months before his death? Why was the wrong date listed on the house’s incident report detailing his eviction? Why did the house manager let her son drive when he knew he was high?
“He could have killed someone on the way (home). He could have killed himself,” she said.
After Rohdes' death, Hererra campaigned for a law that would require recovery houses to alert the next of kin when someone evicted for relapsing. New Jersey Gov. Chis Christie recently signed the legislation creating "Nick's law," which was named after Rohdes.
If she had been notified of the eviction, maybe she could have convinced her son to go back into rehab like she did before, Herrera said. She'll never know. And that's what bothers her the most.
“They’re taking advantage of the parents who are desperate,” Herrera said. “Maybe my son would have died of heroin, but not that night.”