This year, more than 1,400 people in Georgia are expected to die from drug overdoses. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many will be in their 20s. They will still be thought of as kids by their grieving parents.
Some of the victims of addiction were represented Tuesday night in a room on the University of North Georgia's campus in Cumming. While the maximum occupancy was only 268 people, nearly 350 souls were honored by candles in teacups.
Realtor Jennifer Bryant Hodge has wanted to help those struggling from addiction since before the disease took her 23-year-old son in 2016.
While taking real estate classes in 2011, Hodge learned agents had to disclose formally whether a home for sale had ever been used in the production of methamphetamine.
“There has to be a problem,” Hodge told herself then as she wondered if other real estate agents were reading into the information in the same way she was.
She started Realty4Rehab as a relocation company in which she could generate a 33 percent commission from real estate agents for leads. Other third-party companies had been known to charge higher commissions for leads, and Hodge thought if she used that money for a nonprofit then more agents would want to join her in her efforts to relocate those that suffer from addiction into recovery centers.
“I knew that there was a way to save lives and I knew that it could be done through real estate transactions," she said.
The week Robbie Hodge died, the paperwork to make Realty4Rehab a formal charity came through.
"Robbie was a big part of it," Hodge said. "He was the cheerleader."
Her own son's troubles started after an appendectomy surgery when he was 15. He became addicted to the opioid painkillers the doctors prescribed, his mother said. But he went through treatment in Gainesville and continued battling not only his addiction but also anxiety.
But Robbie had been feeling depressed, his mother said. When she found him collapsed in the bathroom, Hodge assumed he'd relapsed on heroin. Weeks later, when the toxicology report came back, Hodge realized her son had overdosed on anti-anxiety medication.
"He didn’t plan to die, I promise you that,” Hodge said.
Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman said his office recently joined a multi-jurisdictional drug task force to combat the drug dealers plaguing not only the local community but also Alpharetta and Johns Creek.
"I have to remind people from time to time that the guys and girls with the badges and the guns are the only ones that can do anything about the dealers," Freeman said Tuesday before speaking at the memorial.
The sheriff also said he doubled the number of school resource officers and started a drug education program called CHAMPS, or "choosing healthy alternatives."
"We do a lot of positive mentoring with our kids and we know that we have to get to them young," Freeman said. "If we wait until they get in high school we've waited too long."
Like Hodge, Cobb County Realtor Yvette Williams also lost a son to addiction two years ago. He was 21 years old. Now she’s giving a portion of her profits to address addiction locally.
Her chapter of Realty4Rehab raises money for police in Marietta to carry Narcan, a nasal mist spray that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose.
She said the drug helps people who are suffering from addiction and police officers who are exposed to deadly concentrations of drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanyl. Narcan also protects police dogs.
"So you're saving all kinds of lives," she said.
She plans to continue raising money, spreading awareness and encouraging policymakers to help.
"I'd like this to not just be at the city level or I'd like to be the state level," Williams said. "I think we need talk to our senators and have this be a state line item fund it needs to be in our budget."