Atlanta-area realtor Jennifer Bryant Hodge spent the evening with the coroner in Cobb County helping her family cope with the loss of her nephew-in-law, who had died of a fentanyl overdose. Grieving over her nephew and her brother, who had died of an overdose exactly 17 years earlier, Hodge came home, tired, only to find that her 23-year-old son Robbie had collapsed in the bathroom. He was not breathing. She called 911, and EMTs rushed Robbie to the hospital, where he was declared brain dead.
When she found him, Hodge presumed her son had overdosed on heroin. “Everyone else was dying from heroin,” she said, “and I had no reason to believe it wasn’t heroin.” The truth was unexpected and more complicated. Three months after his death, authorities told Hodge that toxicology results showed that he had died of a massive overdose of benzodiazepines, a class of anti-anxiety drugs that includes Xanax, Klonopin, Valium and Ativan.
Robbie’s phone showed that over Thanksgiving weekend he had been feeling depressed and anxious. He sent himself a text message that read: “Nothing satisfies me anymore, obsessive thoughts racing, no confidence or self worth, scared to do anything or experience life, no dopamine to start any projects, scared to love, push away those closest to me, fear death of family, it’s a doomed world, meditate and read book to realign my thoughts, can’t commit to anything, riki [sic] and hypnotherapy.”
obbie texted a friend—a student from a private Christian academy they both attended, and who appears with him in the pages of his yearbooks—to ask for Xanax to help with his anxiety. She was out of Xanax, but listed an extensive inventory and offered counterfeit Xanax, ”white pressies” at 5 for $20, as a substitute. She promised “they were good.” Robbie bought the pressies. On November 29, shaken by the news of his cousin-in-law’s death—even more so because he had been fearful about a death in the family—he took just one of the pills, with tragic consequences. Three months later, after she received the toxicology report, Hodge realized that there were four Xanax still sitting in her kitchen cabinet, and sent them to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations for testing. They were a match for the drug that killed her son. Hodge was chilled to realize that her daughter Ashleigh had asked her for one of those pills, mistaking them for real Xanax, after the funeral. Ashleigh had been prescribed Xanax in the past, and thought the drug might relieve anxiety over losing Robbie.
ennifer and Robbie were working to support addicts when he died, and since his death she has continued working. In 2014, she founded Realty4Rehab (R4R), a grassroots project that connects real estate clients with realtors who have agreed to donate 33 percent of their commission to addiction recovery efforts. Clients can fund treatment for someone they know needs help, or make a general donation to a rehabilitation program. Finding ways to fund addiction recovery was personal: Robbie had developed an addiction to OxyContin when he was prescribed it after surgery at 16, and paying for long-term treatment was a challenge. When someone helped her with a scholarship, she promised them she would “pay it forward.”
In the six months before Robbie’s death, other realtors began asking how they could participate in R4R. Hodge updated the website, filled out the IRS charity paperwork, and submitted a magazine ad to be delivered throughout Forsyth County on December 1. She showed Robbie the advertisement, asking him, “Robbie, are you going to help me run this, or are you going to be the poster child?” “Mom, God’s GOT THIS,” Robbie told her. “It is going to be huge.” “Okay, what do you want, 20 dollars?” she replied, chuckling.
odge has since won local, national and international recognition for the idea of saving lives through real estate.
Asked what kind of person her son was, Hodge characterized him as “one of the most giving, caring, loving people you’ll ever meet.” Hundreds of people came to visit him in his final days in the hospital, she said, many leaving sobriety chips on his bed to offer hope. He had a much larger impact on people than she realized:
The stories that came out after his death were amazing...He saved a lot of lives. He got a lot of people off drugs...When the stories came back about the things that he did [that] he never told me about, that was something that really took me by surprise. He left behind four years of journaling...in one of his journals he said, “It’s not about the things that you do that are great, that you tell people about, it’s about doing things that are great and never saying a word.”
Robbie leaves behind two amazing sisters Ashleigh and Lauren, who are both advocates for fighting addiction. Ashleigh moderates a Facebook group, Sibling Support for Overdose & Addiction, and Lauren is beginning to speak publicly. Hodge can be found on Facebook.