Photo of Nick Cristarella.

LAUREL, Md. — When addiction hits close to home, family members and friends often feel helpless. It’s difficult to sit by and watch the devastating pull of addiction take hold of someone you love. One such story involves a mother by the name of Rhea McVicker.

She lost her only child, Nick, in 1997 to an opioid overdose when he was just 22 years old. Nick’s mom described her son as “a smart, handsome, young man with his whole life in front of him. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a strong love for his family.”

Nick had struggled with addiction since his early teens, and he tried to get help. He went to three rehabs before age 18 (both private and state-run). Most places were, and still are, state-run facilities that, “can drain a family’s bank account.” When Nick turned 21, he asked his parents if they would help him get into Reality House Treatment Center, in Laurel, Maryland.

Nick was admitted to the center and completed the program. Unfortunately, as a resident of the halfway house, he messed up one night and was kicked out. Less than a year later, Nick overdosed on a prescription bottle of hydrocodone cough medicine his mom was prescribed for a cough. Rhea said she had taken one dose, found it too strong, and put it in the refrigerator. Over one day, Nick drank the bottle of prescription cough medicine-mixed with soda.

That night he went to sleep and never woke up. His heart shut down as a result of the hydrocodone.

Rhea McVicker (founder of Nick’s place, Board President, and Nick’s mom).

When Nick passed, his mom and dad (Barry McVicker) knew they had to do something to help others who were struggling with the problem of addiction. They went to the last treatment center Nick had been in and they told his story. They remembered that Nick had told them that there was often no one Nick’s age at halfway houses or treatment centers and they felt called to open up a place to help young men like Nick that wanted to overcome their addictions. Rhea and Barry asked for donations, and the community stepped up with donors. They opened Nick’s Place in October 2000.

Nick’s Place is a clean, safe, sober, affordable home located in Beltsville, MD (in Prince George’s County) for young men ages 20-26 years of age recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. Since opening their door, Nick’s Place has helped hundreds of young men get and stay sober. Rhea said, “It’s more than a regular rehab center or halfway house. We help young men with all aspects of life. Many of the young men that come to Nick’s Place have guilt and shame and debt and legal challenges and have not had a good job for a long time.”

Nick’s Place relies on donations to keep its doors open. They have been blessed with a loyal base of donors who see the difference in each of these young men’s lives. Additionally, each young man pays a weekly fee of $175 which they earn by working. This is not money that is donated or given to them by parents or friends. They earn this money on their own. Rhea and Barry found employers who want to hire these young men and give them a fresh start. Rhea said that everyone that sits down with these young men is changed for the better.

The pandemic has made it more difficult for Nick’s Place and anyone who’s recovering from addiction. There is a 50% capacity limit and steps had to be taken to ensure the safety of the residents and staff. Also, there are few in-person 12-step meetings.

The sense of community is much harder when a recovering addict can no longer be greeted with a hug or a handshake or can no longer receive their 30-day chip for being sober. The support and encouragement those recovering from addiction get from one another is a critical part of the recovery process. “There is such power in seeing so many others winning the same battle,” Rhea said.

Encouragement and support are just a part of the family atmosphere that Nick’s Place strives to achieve. It’s a place where each young man is accountable to themselves and everyone else. Rhea wants each young man who comes through the doors of Nick’s Place to “be able to go out in the world with all of the resources they need to feel valued. This is a basic human need.” 

If you would like more information on Nick’s Place, you can visit their website at



For more information, or to seek help with opioid prevention or treatment for addiction in Southern Maryland, click on the corresponding link(s) below:

St. Mary’s County, Md.

Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery

Charles County, Md.

Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery

Calvert County, Md.

Opioid prevention

Overdose response program,breathing%20problems%20from%20opioid%20overdose.

Treatment for Opioid addiction

Anne Arundel County, Md.

Opioid Misuse Prevention

Opioid Response Training

Substance Abuse Treatment

Prince George’s County, Md.

Alcohol and Drug Prevention

Opioid Response Training

Substance Abuse Treatment


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