This Wednesday, Aug. 31, is International Overdose Awareness Day. NBC10 this week is revisiting the stories of people you first met earlier this year in Generation Addicted, our in-depth special report on the heroin and opioid epidemic in our region and beyond. Watch Generation Addicted again this Wednesday at 7 p.m., only on NBC10.
DAYS BEFORE her son's 23rd birthday, Angel Miller came face-to-face with exactly what she feared might happen: She found her son, Michael, in their Philadelphia home with a needle in his arm.
"He was relapsing," Angel Miller said on Monday, tears shining in her eyes. "He was hiding it pretty well, but I kept finding stuff pawned."
Michael Miller, whose story was featured in NBC10's in-depth special report, Generation Addicted, battled opioid and heroin addiction for the past two years after a friend encouraged him to try prescription painkillers. He got hooked, and soon, he was injecting heroin.
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For Michael, recovery proved to be like holding sand. Just as he'd get a grip on it, it would slip away -- a slow trickle at first, as he'd take liberties using his Suboxone prescription to achieve a small high. Then in a crushing wave, when he'd find himself back in Kensington copping heroin on a corner to mainline into the crook of his arm.
So when her son seemed to achieve a stint of sobriety earlier this year, Angel, a psychiatrist assistant who helps people get into drug rehabs, was wary. She had a feeling Michael's battle may not have been over then, and her intuition was on: She started to suspect Michael was using again in the spring, and in April, she opened the bathroom door in the family's Wissinoming apartment to find Michael shooting heroin.
"I said, 'You gotta go.' I'm not doing this," Angel told NBC10 on Monday. "I'm not gonna open the bathroom door and you're dead on the floor."
But this time, Angel said, Michael seemed to have a new resolve to leave behind the drug that stole his dream of graduating Drexel University with an engineering degree and nearly killed him several times.
"This time, he wanted to go. That's the difference," Angel said. "He was ready. He was packing his bags, and he was ready to go."
Michael thrived in his new rehab program, Angel said, and spent a little more than a month there, then won a scholarship to move into a $175-a-week sober-living house in Levittown. Now, Michael has logged four and a half months sober -- his longest stretch of sobriety in a long time, his mom said.
He got a job working for a company that prepares houses for people to move in, and goes to support group meetings every day with friends from his recovery house. Angel said the other young men in the house provide a solid network that Michael didn't have back home in Philadelphia, where many of his longtime friends are themselves battling addiction.
Michael plans to eventually become a counselor to help other people out of addiction, both he and his mother said.
- WATCH Michael Tell His Story: