A day does not go by in America when a life is not lost or ruined due to opiate prescription drug abuse.
In an article published on July 16, 2010, ABC News reported that pain medicine addiction had risen “400 percent in the last decade.” Although that statistic is daunting enough, it does nothing to describe the horror and terror this demon wields on a family when it strikes home personally.
As the mother of a prescription drug addict, I can attest that life as I used to know stopped on March 7, 2007, when my son was injured in an automobile accident. Although I did not know it until a few months later, because he never told me how much he hurt, my son’s back had been severely injured. After consulting with injury lawyers and being referred to a chiropractor and a pain management clinic, hell on earth began.
As his abuse of OxyContin grew, my son’s ability to craft extremely intricate lies grew as well and initially, my desire to not rock the boat caused me to turn a blind eye. Also, since he did not live with me, I had no daily reference to gauge his behavior. His nervousness and slurred speech during family gatherings did not go un-noticed but confrontation would have ruined the event and his elaborate excuses always seemed to outweigh those consequences.
When I finally convinced my son to go with me to consult a top orthopedic surgeon in a very reputable teaching hospital in Florida, I was not only shocked when that expert announced that “he had never seen such a bad back in such a young man,” I felt guilty that I had not spurred my boy into serious action sooner. Chiropractors and questionably legal pain management clinics had only made the time between the car accident and now, more unbearable.
Two major operations ensued. The first operation in late 2008 was a microdiscectomy to treat L-4, L-5, and S-1 herniations. It involved removing parts of the bulging discs, and adding cadaver bone and hardware to help repair the damage. When the hardware began to slip, the second operation was performed in the summer of 2009. Each time he left the hospital, OxyContin was prescribed.
After the first operation, I stayed with my son while he recuperated, and followed the pain pill directions carefully when I let him have one. After the second operation, since the hospital would not dismiss him without that script again, I ripped it up when I got him into the car.
What many people may not know is how powerfully addicting opiate medications such as OxyContin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and their acetaminophen-combined partners such as Percocet and Roxicet can be when abused.
Addicts, including my son, have tried to explain how and why they spiraled out of control on these medications. Most of the people I have spoken with, since I began to confront this beast head on, have related that they were first introduced to opiates via valid prescriptions due to pain from injuries.
As their tolerance of the drug increased, the desire to take more also increased. When their prescriptions ran out, their desperation to get their hands on pills illegally was spurred by the fear of what would happen if and when they tried to “come off” of them. As you can read in numerous articles in the newspaper or on the Internet the side effects, which are severe, also can be lethal. Depression, nervousness, chills, confusion, insomnia, and low blood pressure have all been reported as some of the potential adverse reactions associated with discontinuance of opiates.
So what do you do when you need more of these drugs and cannot get your hands on them legally? You doctor shop the planet, as my son did, never telling one that you have been to another. You find out the name of unscrupulously notorious physicians, (and take it from me, there are plenty out there), who have no problem prescribing large quantities of opiates to patients who complain of being in pain. You consult with other addicted individuals to find out which “pain management clinics” also have no problem scripting “Oxys and Roxys” to anyone.
But aren’t opiates expensive? Oh yes, very. So how does an addict afford to keep his habit going? Well, you can do what my son did. You can lie, cheat, steal, pawn property that belongs to your parents, other siblings, or anyone else that you can get your hands on. You can get hold of your next script and sell each pill at between $11 and $15, which we all know is considered trafficking. The malevolent spirit inhabiting my son’s body did all of that.
As testimony to one of my worst experiences, when I returned home from the hospital after a breast cancer mastectomy, I discovered that my hidden purse and checkbooks had been found and my bank account cleaned out completely.
After five arrests, all related to OxyContin abuse, we may have just hit bottom for the last time. Each time he has been arrested, however, (all of his incarcerations were for non-violent offenses) he has sworn that he has learned his lesson and will never touch the demon again. He wants to find a good job. He wants to finish his college education, but let me tell you how that works. No one wants to hire a felon, and so the new demons associated with rejection, depression, and low self-esteem arise.
I am not giving up. I am focused on helping my son discover positive things he can still accomplish with his life. I am writing a book with several other mothers who have been through similar torture. We are trying to spread the word, to offer lessons learned to others, in order to fight this evil. In the meantime, my eyes are open wide. I know what to look for. I know the signs. This monster is not getting past me again.
Editor’s note: Tampa Bay Newspapers asked a mother to describe the devastating effects that her son’s addiction to prescription drugs has had on their lives. Tampa Bay Newspapers has agreed to identify the mother, who wrote the story, only as “Jo.” She lives in Pinellas County.