HealthVoices of Hope


She lost her son to drug addiction. How she's working to give other families hope.

Posted at 4:52 PM, Apr 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-26 16:58:22-04

RICHMOND, Va. — Four days a week, you’ll find Kerri Rhodes working as a trauma therapist in the Chesterfield County Jail, helping men and women struggling with the grief of addiction.

For Kerri, it’s a struggle her family understands too well.

“Losing your child, I can’t think of a worse hell on earth,” Kerri said. “But there’s purpose in that pain.”

On June 29, 2019, Kerri and Taylor Rhodes lost their only son to the disease of addiction.

Taylor, their son, was 20 years old and a student at N.C. State University.

The Rhodes said their son was loving, outgoing, smart, and loyal to friends and family.

They said his sensitive side made him compassionate, but someone more prone to anxiety.

“Just like any other parent, he was the light of our life,” Taylor said. “We had all the same hopes and dreams as any other parent would have for a child.”

 Kerri and Taylor Rhodes
Kerri Rhodes and her son Taylor

But in his early teen years, the Rhodes said Taylor became addicted to opioids after a routine shoulder surgery.

“He was a freshman in high school, he had a shoulder injury and we managed it with a prescription we were given,” Kerri said. “I didn’t question it, the biggest regret of my life.”

After Taylor became addicted to opioids, his parents said he gradually turned to other drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, Xanax, and eventually heroin.

“We were of the mindset that it was a choice for him to do what he was doing, and addiction isn’t a choice at all,” his father Taylor said. “Addiction actually chooses you.”

Despite rehabilitation, counseling, and the overwhelming support of his family, the power of addiction was too strong.

Taylor relapsed one last time during his second year in college, after eight months of sobriety.

His roommate found him unresponsive in his dorm and was unable to revive him.

“He was very upset that he relapsed,” Kerri said. “In the last text to one of his friends he said ‘I don’t want this. Tomorrow morning I’m going to get up and go back to the recovery center and I’m going to get my life back together and I’m going to use this one last time.’ That’s what he said, this last little bit and it was the last little bit because he didn’t make it.”

Taylor died after ingesting a lethal dose of fentanyl that was mixed with heroin.

Fentanyl is a powerful drug that has been the driving force behind fatal overdoses since 2013 and can now be found in nearly every illicit drug.

According to the Virginia Department of Health Office of The Chief Medical Examiner, there were 1,963 deaths linked to fentanyl in 2022, compared to just 48 deaths in 2007.

“Fentanyl is a game changer and in a bad way,” Virginia First Lady Suzanne Youngkin said. “We are just devastated by it. Over 2,600 Virginians lost their lives to substance use overdoses in 2021, 76% of those were due to fentanyl. When they tested the fentanyl that was in that drug, almost 90% was illicitly made.”

Youngkin is hoping to spread awareness about the dangers of fentanyl, especially to parents of teenagers.

Youngkin said the largest percentage of people who are dying from fentanyl are 17 to 30-year-old males and the epidemic is disproportionately impacting Black males.

This past General Assembly session, Youngkin testified before Virginia lawmakers on fentanyl and on Valentine’s Day invited several families to the executive mansion who have lost loved ones to the illicit drug.

"So those families could hug one another and support one another,” Youngkin said.

Now as part of the Youngkin administration’s “Right Help, Right Now” initiative, the First Lady hopes major funding toward substance abuse prevention and mental health initiatives will change the devastating trend.

The administration is asking for $230 million in this year’s fiscal budget to help Virginia’s families.

Recently, the DEA reported the emerging threat of Xylazine, a large-animal tranquilizer that is now being mixed with fentanyl to increase its high, while decreasing the effectiveness of Naloxone (NARCAN) a lifesaving medication that can reverse an overdose.

“The great news is that families are speaking out,” Youngkin said. “We are trying to systematically move away from a shame stance to an action stance.”

After her son’s death, Kerri Rhodes said she began researching every study on mental health disorders to better understand its prevalence today and why so many young people are falling victim to the disease of addiction.

She now spends hours, both professionally and personally, counseling students and inmates who are battling addiction and is beginning a new program in schools to prevent young people from turning to drugs. The program called “I Never Thought I’d Be Me,” is aimed at educating as many people as possible.

She said Taylor continues to be her inspiration.

“He and I both said that we were going to tell this story together,” Kerri said. “I just didn’t expect he would be on the other side while we did. I always think at the end of the day, when my time here is done, however much time I get, that when I’m with him again, I want him to say ‘Mom, I’m proud.’”

Depend on CBS 6 News and for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email to send a tip.