The opioid epidemic has killed almost 500,000 Americans in the last two decades, including 26-year-old Jeremy Castro in 2017.

But instead of retreating into anger and rage at the person who supplied drugs to her son, Jeremy’s mother, Rose Castro, did something completely unexpected: she paid for the drug dealer’s rehab.

Castro’s story begins like so many others who have lost a loved one to the opioid epidemic. In 2017, Castro found her son dead of a heroin overdose in his bedroom. She later found out the heroin was laced with fentanyl — a synthetic opioid that is 100x stronger than morphine.

When Castro did some digging into who Jeremy spent time with in the days leading up to his death, she discovered that one of his friends, fellow substance misuser Chris Thomas, had supplied the $20 worth of drugs to Jeremy that caused his death.

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In the wake of his death, Castro was filled with grief, rage and an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness over the death of her son. Struggling to fully heal, she knew something had to change.

“I never had any real hate for [Chris] because I just didn’t have any feelings for a very long time,” Castro said in an interview for her non-profit, the Jeremy Castro Foundation. “And as confused as I was at God, I knew it was for a reason. And so I just searched for that reason. Like, why me? Why us? Why Jeremy? Why Chris? And I just searched until I found the answer… You have to forgive him.”

Thomas was arrested and charged with federal drug distribution charges. And above all, he was wracked with guilt over the death of his friend.

Rose Castro and Jeremy Castro
Jeremy Castro with his mother, Rose Castro. Courtesy:

“[Chris Thomas] wanted to die… he wanted to take his own life,” Rose said. “In fact, he tried to take his own life on more than one occasion. I put myself in his shoes and I thought, ‘You know what? He’s just an addict like my son’… And he’s never going to recover with this guilt and shame that he carries for taking my son’s life.”

Castro founded the Jeremy Castro Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping people struggling with heroin addiction get clean and start a new life.

Castro offered to help get Thomas clean, but he was still in the throes of self-destruction. Filled with shame, his life spiraled. He was in and out of prison, each time, coming out in worse shape than when he went in. It was only his final overdose — where he had a close brush with death — that he decided to turn his life around.

After his overdose, Thomas’s family contacted Rose, whom they knew ran an addiction and recovery non-profit. With her help, they staged an intervention with their drug-addicted son. Rose then helped him find a room at a sober-living community and sponsored him through recovery. As of now, Thomas is 6 months clean.

Jeremy Castro
Jeremy Castro as a child. Courtesy:

“[Rose] was telling me how God kept me alive for a reason,” said Thomas. “And I just saw how unfair that was. Someone who had her son taken from her, the person who had the biggest part in [her son dying] got an opportunity to turn his life around.”

He added: “I feel like I ruined her family and she saved my family.”

But Castro expressed that she doesn’t see it that way. She feels that in saving Thomas from his addiction, she also helped save herself.

“All his family, they’re breathing again,” she said. “That’s what recovery does. It’s not just them, it’s your entire community. This process of helping those people that need help, it also helps me. It’s very constructive in my recovery. So I guess we’re all in recovery of a different sort.”