Northern Kentucky Voice: Your Voice, Your Story

Family loses son to addiction, creates org to help

FORT THOMAS, Ky. - Heroin took their son’s smile, his deep, contagious laughter, and his future. Heroin took their son. That's why Eric and Holly Specht hate heroin.

“Are they going to know he was a good person?” Holly asked as she wondered aloud about her son would be remembered by those who knew him. “He wasn’t a bad person, he just made bad choices.”

Their son, Nicholas Specht, of Fort Thomas, always said “I love you,” to his family. But no longer.

On Aug. 8, Nicholas’s addiction robbed his parents of ever hearing those words again.

“He didn’t get much of a second chance,” said his dad, Eric.

No One Is Safe From Addiction

The Specht family said Nicholas’s overdose was an accident and they’re not alone.

Heroin is responsible for 51 percent of all drug-related deaths, according to

Overdose tops the charts in Kentucky for 2012, in accidental death, above drowning and fire. Statewide, heroin overdoses were just under 20 percent for all drug overdose deaths for 2012.

Between 2011-2012, Boone County documented 48 drug overdose cases; Campbell County: 79; and Kenton County leads Northern Kentucky with 109 drug overdoses in two years, according to the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

Heroin use and trafficking are also skyrocketing in Northern Kentucky, said Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders, who maintains the growing popularity is due to the proximity of the interstate and the nearby metropolis.

The shift to heroin in Kentucky came, Sanders said, once the Commonwealth cracked down on ‘pill mills,’the widespread abuse of prescription drugs and particularly prescriptions painkillers. Prescription drugs were then more expensive and harder to come by because of the stricter laws in place. Heroin slid into the picture, readily available and less expensive for addicts looking for a fix.

Mexico supplies 90 percent of Northern Kentucky’s cocaine, heroine and meth, said Sanders. Possession and trafficking cases are climbing year after year.

(Below are Kenton County's heroin felonies by the year, according to Sanders.)

Tough Love And A Glimpse Of Hope

Nearly two months after his death, Holly finds herself checking her phone for a text from Nicholas or a phone call at any moment. The call never comes.

Family was everything to Nicholas, said Eric. And he was everything to his family.

“He loved his family. Through all of his ups and downs, he had a strong commitment, connection to our family. That bond has never broken. As memories fade, I’ll never forget that,” said Eric, tearing up as he remembered his son.

"I’m proud of him and his fight," said his mom, Holly, who never gave up on her son even during his darkest moments.

His addiction started with prescription drugs a few years back. But the addiction grew.

He told his mom, while he never thought he’d ever do heroin, “it’s so cheap.”

For a year and a half, Nicholas struggled with his demons and eased the pain with heroin.

“His core issue caught up with him,” said Eric.

Nicholas was never able to overcome the grief of losing his baby, Leah Nicolette, in 2011. She was stillborn.

“He struggled with guilt,” remembered Eric.

It was a mental and physical pain that begged him for self-medication, he said.

His parents found out about his addiction a year ago after he was arrested for a traffic violation with drug paraphernalia in the car.

“It just floored us,” said Eric, who learned early on the difference between enabling and supporting a drug dependent family member.

He used the commonly known “tough love” method on his son.

“It was very tough,” said Eric. “The hardest thing to do is detach. What you want to do is help them and take care of those problems. But that’s the worst thing you can do when they’re addicted.”

“It’s hard, but it’s not about us, it’s about him,” said Eric. “That’s hard for parents. You raise them to live their life and I’m not going to help you die.”

Not knowing where her son was sleeping at night was the hardest part for Holly.

“You cry all night,” she remembered. “You’re in your bed, but where is he?”

“It was hell,” she said. “We were terrified. We thought he would die, that he could die from it.”

Their son started to get the help he needed and things slowly turned around.

Nicholas successfully attended Droege House, a detox center in Dayton, Ky., and a stint in Talbert House, a rehabilitation center in Cincinnati. After 90 days, he came out doing “real well,” said Eric.

But it didn’t last.

“Heroin is so addictive and so emotionally addictive,” said Eric. “Demons chase you—you’re escaping from the emotional pain.”


From Bad To Worse

Holly and Eric were getting ready for a party at the house that weekend. Nicholas was attending a meeting with his sponsor, who had a newborn baby in tow. Seeing the

baby, remembered his parents, opened an emotional wound in Nicholas.

He came home and confided in his mom that he wasn’t doing so well.

“Mom, I’m struggling with my sobriety,” Holly remembered him telling her that night.

Trying to encourage his efforts and his spirit, she said she tried to be his cheerleader, telling him, “We’re so proud of you.”

“…But I’m really struggling mom, over Leah,” he told her.

Before Holly headed off to bed, she knocked on the bathroom door, where Nicholas was, and he told her “I love you, night.”

Eric was in the family room when he heard a thud from the bathroom. Nicholas’s dog Ruger, his beloved boxer-mastiff mix, rushed to alert Eric that something was wrong.

The worried father bolted to the bathroom and started knocking, then beating the door. He yelled, but heard nothing.

As Holly awoke to her frantic husband kicking in the bathroom door, she called 911. Finally, with a crowbar in hand, Eric was able to pry the door open and the couple found their son.

After a painful reminder that night of what he lost, his parents believe that their son medicated his demons, unintentionally overdosing as he thought about the infant daughter he lost.

After 72 hours in the ICU… they said ‘goodbye.’

Lighting The Way For Others Through Their Darkest Hour

Even as their children grew into adulthood, the Spechts threw blowout birthday parties. The family partied with Nicholas when he turned 30 in July.  Now the family has come together again but for a far more serious purpose. This time it’s to fight addiction and create awareness by creating a website and vowing to eradicate heroin in their community.

"We were scared, lonely, ashamed. We didn’t want to tell the family,” admitted Holly when she and Eric first found out about Nicholas’s addiction.

She feared the knee-jerk reaction of people, thinking that his addiction was a reflection on their parenting.

‘What did you do to you son?’ she could hear people saying in her mind.

But she realizes now, she said, that addiction is a disease and there is no reason to be ashamed. Furthermore, she knows that there are families out there just like hers who need answers—answers that she struggled to find.

It’s Eric and Holly’s loss that prompted the whole family to start ‘N.Ky. Hates Heroin ’ for families drowning in the uncertainty of addiction, like they were for the past year and a half. provides heroin addiction resources for addicts and the loved ones of addicts.

The group will host RecoveryNow !, a celebration of addiction recovery on Saturday, Sept. 21, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Devou Park Band Shell.

Federal Money Coming To N.Ky.

Kentucky recently received $6.1 million in federal grants for drug-prevention programs throughout the Commonwealth, which was ranked in the top eight states receiving grants to prevent youth substance abuse under the Drug-Free Communities (DFC) program.

“We are not powerless against the challenge of drug use among young people here in Kentucky,” said Gov. Steve Beshear. “Research shows that prevention is the most effective tool we have to reduce the terrible consequences associated with drug use among young people. This new funding will help local organizations place more young people on the path toward success and enable them to live healthier and safer lives.”
Of the 25 grants Kentucky received, Northern Kentucky will get $250,000.

Northern Kentucky’s Local Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) Board will receive $125,000, assisting, Campbell, Boone, Grant, Gallatin, Pendleton, Kenton, Carroll and Owen counties.

Kenton County will receive $125,000.


Northern Kentucky Voice: Your Voice, Your Story is a periodic and ongoing series on about the people of Northern Kentucky making a difference in their community.  


Photography by Jessica Noll, WCPO photojournalist and reporter for Northern Kentucky.

Graphic by Brian Niesz, WCPO


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