Michael and Angel Miller are taking it one day at a time, but things are getting better.
Michael, 22, appeared along with his mother, Angel, in Generation Addicted, NBC10's exclusive in-depth look at the heroin and opioid epidemic. Michael's story is not uncommon: At the suggestion of a friend, he started experimenting with painkillers as a young adult, and before long, he wound up hooked on pills and later, on heroin.
When the half-hour special featuring Michael and Angel's story aired on Monday, though, Michael wasn't home to watch it with his mom in their Northeast Philadelphia apartment. He was stuck in a jail cell on State Road, locked up for four days on an old bench warrant -- an arrest his mother, who works in the medical field and helps people get into rehab, says is a symptom of a broken system that punishes people battling addiction.
"He just wasn't supposed to be there," Angel said as she sat with Michael in his bedroom on Thursday afternoon.
Michael's warrant stemmed from past drug-possession charges and missed court dates after he returned to Philadelphia from rehab in Florida last year. Both he and his mother said court notices never came in the mail to their apartment.
So when Michael was walking along the river near his family's home on Saturday afternoon and called 9-1-1 after hearing a woman screaming for help, police arrested him on his outstanding bench warrant.
Because he was arrested on a weekend, he spent four days in jail before he saw a judge on Tuesday and was released early Wednesday. Fortunately, Angel said, Michael was given some medication to ease his withdrawal symptoms while he was jailed. He takes Suboxone, a medication that prevents withdrawal and blunts opiate cravings, as part of his recovery from heroin addiction -- and being without it in jail meant withdrawal symptoms crept back.
After he appeared before a judge late Tuesday, Michael was released, court records show. He's continuing to work toward clearing up the possession case while making progress in his recovery.
Michael's been sober for about a month and a half now, is in therapy and goes to intensive outpatient treatment. NBC10 met Michael in Kensington in December in the midst of his two-year battle with heroin, after he relapsed in the fall following his stint in rehab in Florida.
In Generation Addicted, Michael spoke candidly about his addiction, explaining how he never wanted to be addicted to heroin -- and never thought he would -- but felt compelled once he became hooked. You can hear him and Angel talk about his battle with heroin here.
Now, Michael is doing better, and he and his mom are taking each day at a time as he continues to recover. He's talking about going back to college to finish his bachelor's degree and plans to meet with a counselor from the Community College of Philadelphia.
Angel said that while it broke her heart to watch the raw video of Michael in his active addiction, she's never been more proud of her son. She said she hopes sharing his story will help other people and said being a part of Generation Addicted has inspired her to get more involved like many of the other mothers of addicted children who were featured.
"I want to be involved, because that's how much I love this kid," Angel said on Wednesday. "I'm so proud of him in so many ways."
She and Michael both said they've received a lot of support from a wide network of friends, family and acquaintances after Generation Addicted. The night of the show, Michael received almost five dozen texts from old friends who saw it and reached out to him.
"People wanted to see how I was doing," Michael said Wednesday. "They all said the same thing."
Angel plans to connect with other mothers to help other families plagued by addiction.
"I somehow want to be a voice for mothers like me, to let them know it can come to your house," she said. "We have to do something, because 22-year-olds are dying."
And even though she still worries each time Michael walks out the door, she said she has faith that he'll continue to do better and better as time goes on.
The pair talked lightheartedly about his upcoming 23rd birthday and about getting him back into college classes Wednesday afternoon -- a drastic difference from the way Michael appeared two months ago while he was still using.
"There's a reason why I'm here, there's a reason he's still alive," Angel said. "He's gonna accomplish something before I die. I know that with my whole heart."