Train Track Heroin Market

Discarded syringes that previously were found near near train tracks in Philadelphia.  Workers have since cleaned up the open-air heroin market that has thrived for decades along a set of train tracks a few miles outside the heart of Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

"You do what you've got to do for your kids, in hopes that they make it."

260 miles: that's how far Jackie Hudiburg had to travel daily to and from Lewes to Northeast Philadelphia so her son, Sam*, now 19, could attend The Bridge Way School, the area's only recovery high school that aims to continue education programs for teens while also providing them with the necessary supports to overcome an addiction.

"The longer you can have kids in like a supportive recovery environment, the better off their chances are so I was like alright, we'll do this," said Hudiburg.

The drive could take 2 1/2 hours one-way depending on conditions, and when it became too hard, they uprooted their regular lives.

"We came up to Hockessin, stayed with my sister-in-law from Monday to Thursday, so when he left school Thursday, we would travel back down to the beach, which we'd stay for the weekend," she said.

Even from Hockessin, Jackie drove her son every day.

"I wasn't working during those four days, which was really difficult," she said. "It was difficult, I mean you're living in someone else's house, my sister-in-law, and her family, she has three kids, so it's a little crazy."

Hudiburg said her son suffered from social anxiety, insomnia, and exercised isolating behaviors in middle school.  As he aged, Sam developed depression in high school and started smoking pot as a freshman at Cape Henlopen High School, using the drug as a coping mechanism.

The combination of behavioral health and substance abuse issues presented a challenge for Hudiburg.  

"I could see it," she said.  "His dad is still an active alcohol-addict, so I know what it looks like...I saw it progressing, and that scared me."

After seeing substance abuse counselors in West Chester, Pennsylvania, she sent her son to Newport Academy in Connecticut, a residential treatment center for kids with substance abuse and mental health issues.

She had to fight with the state of Delaware to pay for his out-of-state treatment after she had already tried a state hospital that didn't work for her son. Sam was at Newport Academy for more than two months, where he also enrolled in online schooling.

"I was very nervous about bringing him back to Lewes, it's small, there's not a lot of support there, there's not any kind of recovery--meetings, groups for kids his age, so I knew it was going to be really hard," said Hudiberg.

That's when she found Bridge Way and her lengthy commute began.

"Coming out of residential treatment, it gave him the support of peers, for one, because that's huge," said Hudiburg. "They're teenagers, so they need each other, and I think Bridge Way is great because they did groups with the kids, which I think is really important for them to hear each other's stories and what's going on so that it normalizes it for them."

"When he came out of Newport and not had the support of Bridge Way...he may have gotten further behind in his school than he was," she said. "I don't know how he would've progressed, and he may've fallen back into old patterns way quicker...Bridge Way was a part of our process."

Attending school in a small classroom setting free of distraction was very helpful too, she said.

"It was the first time that he did really well, so to him, he was so excited that he was doing so well, and he realized that he actually could. So yeah, I think there's a lot of benefits to recovery school and what Bridge Way gave to him."

Sam graduated from Bridge Way, but only because he was able to do online schooling and Skype into classes when living in a home that wasn't his became too stressful, and the commute too daunting.

But no doubt if Delaware had a recovery school:

"It would've been a heck of a lot easier. It definitely would've made things easier because traveling up to Northeast Philadelphia was tough."

But without Bridge Way:

"I really did not believe he was going to graduate, I mean I didn't think he was going to make through high school so I thank God for Bridge Way."

Hudiburg said her son is doing well now.

"It's a miracle," she said.

After graduating from Bridge Way, her son headed to Idaho, where he's been since March to attend a young adult transitional program, a year-long program for kids with mental health issues. The three-step program involves intensive, transitional, and aftercare. He's entering the third-phase, a more independent life, where he'll get his own apartment and complete his personal training certification. 

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*Editors Note:  Sam's real name has been changed to protect his identity.