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Sunday, July 14, 2024


Son’s Heroin Death Inspired Her Mission 3.8.2006

By Christine Cote

RIO GRANDE — Patricia Conley knows that heroin claimed her son’s life at 23 and has been living with that fact for almost two years.
Jeremiah Reid, born July 19, 1980, to Conley and her first husband, Ronald Reid, was found dead in his mother’s mobile home here on the morning of July 6, 2004, with heroin and needles in his pocket.
This was after being rushed to the hospital in early May because of a heroin overdose, al-though he was an addict in treatment for close to four years.
The story of Reid’s life is a cautionary tale for all parents.
His first contact with drugs, according to Conley, was when he was a junior at Middle Town-ship High School and was “taken out in an ambulance” after buying pills from another student in the school’s boys’ bathroom.
Conley still does not know what the drug was, but she said the seller worked at a nursing home and was selling pills he acquired there. She thinks it was “something given to cancer pa-tients for pain.” Reid had to have his stomach pumped.
His death and the circumstances of the last years of her son’s life have spurred Conley on her current mission.
“I want to make a difference so another family doesn’t have to go through this,” said Conley. “Not just in my name, it’s a legacy for my son. If it helped one kid or one family,” she added, she would feel she accomplished something.
The last two years have been difficult for her. No one told her the second year after her loss would be even worse.
But now she’s ready to go public and she spoke out at the freeholder meeting Feb. 28 in sup-port of Prosecutor Robert Taylor’s request for more money to hire additional staff.
“We need more undercover officers,” said Conley, who claimed both she and the police know where her son purchased his drugs but closing down a drug house means catching someone in the act.
She wants to take her story to the schools and is now talking with the prosecutor’s office about making a presentation to students.
Since she believes it was a combination of drugs and alcohol that caused Reid’s premature death and that kids are experimenting earlier and earlier, she wants to direct her story to middle school students.
“Reading the entire autopsy report may be a bit much,” she said, but she wants other children to realize the devastation of drugs and alcohol on Reid’s health and body.
Because of the drugs found on him at the time of his death, both Conley and his father, who was staying with him because Conley was living in Court House with her mother who had just been released from the hospital, believed he had finally died of the drug that had plagued him.
But it was more complicated than that. When she received the autopsy report in November 2004, she was surprised to learn that his cause of death was listed as a heart condition, specially, “myocardial hypertrophy and fibrosis.”
To Conley the second cause, “chronic drug and ethanol abuse,” is more telling and the ulti-mate cause even though toxicology tests failed to find heroin in his system that night.
When he was hospitalized after the May incident it was determined that the heroin he had taken was 85 percent pure, said Conley.
“Basically he was a kid that didn’t have a lot of confidence,” she said. “He found it hard to fit in.”
He didn’t have any problems in his freshman and sophomore years, but “in his junior year partying started to come into play,” she said.
After the school bathroom incident, Conley said she “knew something was wrong” and took him to Cape Counseling. But they refused to keep seeing him because he “continued with drink-ing and smoking marijuana,” she said. They told her there was nothing they could do if he con-tinued with that behavior.
She said she remarried when her son was 13 and, although he got along with his stepfather at first, “at 15 and 16 things changed.” Her second marriage also ended in divorce.
“He came home drunk a few times,” she said. “I feel he started mixing prescription drugs and drinking. He got started on oxycotin that he was “buying on the street,” said Conley.
He gradated from high school in 1999 and “got fairly decent grades,” but school had always been a challenge for Reid.
He was kept back in kindergarten “due to immaturity,” she said, and was diagnosed with at-tention deficit disorder (ADD). “Up to fifth grade he went to the resource room,” said Conley. He was on Ritalin from five to ten years of age and, although it made a difference in his schoolwork, Conley said she now knows of studies that for those who take Ritalin “in later years it can cause depression.”
He wasn’t involved in sports, he was not athletic, and “this was part of the problem in high school,” she said, where jocks and popular kids are prominent but “where are others to fit in?”
Reid was “into music and movies and was in the choral group in high school,” she said.
Lack of things for young people to do in the community was also a problem, Conley said. When there were dances for teens in Wildwood while her son was that age, she said, he went with his friends and she thought that was okay.
But they were finally closed down, said Conley, since according to police they had been “raided a few times and drugs like ecstasy, animal tranquilizers and Valium were being sold there.
Reid was a compassionate young man. While his grandfather was a resident at Crest haven Nursing Home before he died in 1996, Reid visited him often. But he also spent time with other residents and earned three certificates, each for “over 100 hours of dedicated volunteer service.”
He did not want to go to college right after high school and Conley said she now knows that when his friends came home the next summer after attending their first year of college, they saw a difference in Reid.
It was in July 2001 that everything “hit the fan,” said Conley when she found out her son was on heroin.
Even though his father, who lives in Mount Holly, was not that involved in Reid’s life, Conley said her son told his father because he is a recovering alcoholic. From that point forward, his father become more involved in his life.
His parents discussed what to do and since a “girl in the park where they lived was going to Dr. Manlandro, he wanted to go there,” said Conley. James Manlandro specializes in drug abuse cases and runs a methadone clinic here.
“Manlandro didn’t think he could kick it cold,” said Conley.
In September 2001, Reid was in a 30-day in-patient treatment center in Pennsylvania that was arranged by Manlandro. Conley said she wanted her son off methadone. “I wanted him com-pletely drug free.”
He begged to come home, said Conley. “I wanted him to go to a halfway house,” but that didn’t happen.
He continued with methadone and group meetings through Manlandro and Conley said she “would go with him to NA meetings.”
Reid’s life seemed to be back on track since he started Atlantic Community College in spring 2002.
His goal was to become a pediatric oncology nurse, said Conley. “He wanted to do something that would make a difference.”
They were “very pleased” since he got a full Pell grant, she said. By that time he had also been seen by a doctor for complaints of back pain and he was diagnosed with a “form of spinal bifida, a mild form,” said Conley.
He also received a $1,000 scholarship “for children with spinal bifida,” she said. “He was for-tunate his books and everything were paid for.”
He was treated with medication for the back pain, but no surgery was recommended for it be-cause of his age, she said.
But now she believes her son was “self-medicating for confidence, anxiety and pain together.”
By December 2003, her son was off methadone but was taking medication to control anxiety and for sleeping problems, which were caused by his prior drug use said Conley. “It was very hard, his skin all broke out, and he was very antsy.”
Before he lef,t he was taking 50 mgs of methadone daily and when he came home he was tak-ing 15.
But the May incident haunts her. It was her birthday, the day before Mother’s Day and she had gone to dinner with a friend. When she came home, “there were cops all over” and they told her Reid had already been taken to the hospital.
“I was upset and angry,” said Conley. “The cops took me to the hospital but I asked them to take me home. I called his father and he brought him home then next day.”
“I was shocked that no one came in to evaluate him for a 72-hour psych evaluation,” when he was in the hospital in May, said Conley.
He was charged by police and “we had to watch him like a hawk and deal with the courts,” said Conley and “he went to stay with his Dad.”
Reid wanted to go back to Manlandro, said Conley, but she wanted him to go to an in-patient facility and in talking to the lawyer that was handling his case this looked like the solution that would be worked out by the court.
But the case dragged on, said Conley, and it was after her son died that she was advised that it had been sent to municipal court for disposition.
She said her son also did not want to go away for treatment.
“He never wanted to be away from me, that was a big part of the problem,” she said, but noted that for much of his life it “just him and I, we were very close. A majority of the time I was a single parent. I waited on him hand and foot, I did it out of love.”
When he came back from his father’s, “he was sitting at the computer,” she said, ” and told her, ‘Mom, I don’t think I’m supposed to be here, I have so many things wrong with me.'”
She said by that time he had lost his financial aid at school because of failing grades and his driver’s license because of an accident.
She tried to comfort him by telling him “college will always be there.”
He got agitated, she said, and “told me, ‘you don’t understand how scared I am.'”
“I felt in my heart that he felt he couldn’t make it in rehab,” said Conley.
Looking back is there anything she would have done differently?
“What used to bother me,” said Conley “is why is this kid not confident? I praised him, but you just can’t give someone confidence.
“I probably should have made him more independent,” she said. “He was the baby of the clinic and I took him every day and Dr Manlandro said, ‘you have to let him do for himself.'”
Since his death, in her job as a hair stylist she said. “I’ve had an expert in my chair and he said ‘you should have put him out,’ but I couldn’t do that. Would I have worried less if he were on the street? Would he have died sooner?”
Contact Cote at (609) 886-8600 Ext 31 or:

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