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Addiction by prescription: Drug abuse often starts with a prescribed pill

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, November 17, 2012

In the first two parts of the series, “America’s Costliest War” we have looked at the issue of legalization and the human cost to one man who has spent much of his adult life addicted to drugs. Today’s third installment in the series looks at the issue of prescription medication through the eyes of a local high school student, who unwittingly became addicted to a prescribed painkiller and overcame the habit with the help of a teacher.

Editor’s note: A local high school student was interviewed as part of this story. A false name is used in this story to protect his identity.

Part 3 of 4

LEGAL BUT LETHAL – The Centers for Disease Control says deaths from prescription painkillers have reached epidemic levels in the last 10 years. In 2010, about 12 million Americans ages 12 and older reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in the past year, according to the CDC. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Ross is a good student. He makes good grades and has taken on leadership roles among his peers.

So it was a bit of a surprise when a teacher pulled him aside one day and pointed out something even he wasn’t aware of.

He was addicted to pain relievers.

“I didn’t really connect it to addiction. It was just the feeling of no feeling, not really feeling anything, just being stress-free and totally relaxed,” he said.

The drug that gave him that relaxed feeling was hydrocodone, one of the most commonly-prescribed pain killers on the market, and also one of the most-abused.

Like many who find themselves addicted to prescription medication, Ross’ introduction to the drug was through legitimate means. An accident had left him with a severe break in his arm. A doctor prescribed hydrocodone to help relieve the pain following surgery.

For about a month to a month-and-a-half, Ross used the medication like the doctor prescribed it – for pain relief. But eventually he found himself craving the drug, even when no pain was present.

“I would fake pain during class to go and get the pill and take it,” he said. “No one knew I was faking it just to get the feel of the hydrocodone. It happened at home as well. I would fake pain so that I could take the pill.”

He followed all the rules at school: he would check in his medication with a school nurse, and the nurse was the one to administer it. He took the right dosage, and he didn’t take it at more than the prescribed intervals.

But he also found ways to make it last longer.

“The bottle would say take two. I would cut one in half, take one-and-a-half and hide the other half and keep them going. When I’d get my refill, I’d do the same thing to have some for later,” he said.

Ross said he had a teacher who had shared his own story of addiction with the class. In the teacher’s case, it had been marijuana in his younger days. He told the students how he had been able to overcome his addiction and put his life on the right path. The teacher talked about his students being on the right track in life and making sure nothing derails them from that path.

Ross decided to talk to this teacher about his issue with hydrocodone.

“He helped me realize what I was doing was wrong, that I was going completely off what I wanted to do,” he said.

Ross soon realized that there were other students at school who had struggled or were struggling with addiction. Many of those had been helped by this same teacher.

“When I got to meet some of the other students he’d helped, it was like I realized, hey, I’m not alone. We’ve all been addicted to something or done something wrong. We help each other out. Push each other forward. And get back on track with what we want to do,” he said.

Ross threw away the pills he had been stashing, and he stopped refilling his prescription. He discovered a simple recipe for staying off the drug – focusing his mind on being the best student he could be.

“Then I realized I didn’t need the drug to give me that feeling …” he said. “If you do everything like it is supposed to be done, if you do it correctly, you do what you want to be in your life, it gave you that feeling, that stress-free feeling.”

DANGEROUS MIXTURE – People have found ways to use legal prescription medicines to give them a high similar to the one provided by illegal drugs such as heroin. This mixture of a narcotic (like hydrocodone), a muscle relaxant (carisalprazolam) and an anti-anxiety drug (such as Xanax) is known as a “Houston Cocktail” or the “Holy Trinity.” Messenger photo by Joe Duty

A COMMON PROBLEM

Ross is far from alone in his use of painkillers or other prescription drugs to achieve that “feeling” that the drug can provide. One in six teens has used a prescription drug (when a doctor had not prescribed it for them) in order to get high or change their mood, according to a 2011 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, sponsored by MetLife Foundation.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that two-thirds of teens who abuse pain relievers say they have gotten them from family or friends. The same survey found that prescription medicines are now the most commonly abused drugs among 12- to 13-year-olds.

But it’s not just teenagers who are struggling with prescription drug addiction or abuse. County Attorney James Stainton said he has seen an increasing number of driving while intoxicated cases where prescription drugs, or pills, are a contributing factor.

“Most of our (drug-related DWI cases) we see are people who are popping hydrocodone or Xanax (Alprazolam) or a combination of both, and many are also doing that plus alcohol,” Stainton said. “That’s where we get a lot of DWIs these days. People will test positive for a little bit of alcohol, maybe a .02-.05, under the legal limit (.08), but they’ll be popping Xanax on top of it. The combined effect is more than what you would get with just either one.”

And that is a real concern, Stainton said, because people who are intoxicated on pills or a combination of pills and alcohol seem to be more impaired than those who are intoxicated on alcohol alone.

“The people who are intoxicated on pills and alcohol … they are really bad,” he said. ” … There is just something different. They are definitely more impaired in their judgment, their thinking.”

The increase in prescription drug abuse is the reason Stainton has pushed for blood draws during “no refusal” weekends such as around July 4, he said. A person may be intoxicated, but a simple breathalyzer might not show a level of intoxication because it only measures blood alcohol levels. A blood draw will determine other substances such as prescription drugs.

If you view the problem by the demographics reflected in the cases in Stainton’s office, you find there is no true demographic for prescription medicine abuse.

“They’re wealthy people, they’re poorer people. They’re older people, they’re younger people. People with jobs, people without jobs. With families and without families,” he said.

For Ross or those who are prosecuted for prescription drug-related crimes, they might be considered the lucky ones. Someone – whether a teacher, friend, officer or prosecutor – has stepped in to take action before the problem reaches the most critical of stages. Increasingly in the United States, that isn’t happening.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of overdose deaths involving an opioid pain reliever such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone now exceed deaths involving heroin and cocaine combined. In 2008, opioid pain relievers were involved in 14,800 deaths, or 73.8 percent of all prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States.

This increase has contributed to the growing number of overall drug overdoses in the United States. More people now die of drug overdoses than in vehicle accidents, according to the CDC.

Ross doesn’t want to see one of his classmates become another statistic. In the years since his addiction, he has helped other students he’s seen at the school going through their own troubles.

“I’ve told them, ‘You know this isn’t right. You are so much better than this,” he said. ” … You don’t need to smoke that joint, you don’t need to pop that pill. You don’t need to do any of that stuff. You don’t need to drink. You can live the life you want and be who you want to be without that, and they are some of the few people who do know my story. I hope I did make an impact on their life.”

Few people know Ross’ story – not even his parents.

“I know if they knew, they’d be really upset,” he said. “For me, I guess I’m waiting for a time to tell them. I don’t know when that time will be, but I know they love me and I love them. They’ve helped me so much, and I just don’t want to hurt them with this. So I’m just trying to find the right time to tell them.”

The Partnership at Drugfree.org has recently started a national campaign aimed at bringing attention to prescription medicine abuse. The website offers tips on safely securing medicine, proper disposal, the importance of talking to your children about medicine abuse and how to get help. For more information, visit medicineabuseproject.org.

3 Responses to “Addiction by prescription: Drug abuse often starts with a prescribed pill”

  1. Rusty White says:

    WELL DONE!

    What is missing is the fact many people have moved to legal and illegal drugs to avoid being caught. There again our policies and enforcement tactic are forcing people away from a plant that has “never” killed anyone from an overdose to things that are addictive and killers, how is this a good thing?

    Pot is not easy to hide and the smell is easily recognized as are the red eyes, and can be detected in ones system up to 90 days depending on your body weight and usage. This is the reason people young and old have moved to hard drugs that are out of your system in 72 hours, and sadly they are becoming addicted and dying! This is another sad effect of our failure known as the war on drugs. No matter how well meaning or self justified the reality is our policies and enforcement tactics are doing more harm than good.

    While Mr. Stanton and I have had a long running disagreement over his and “others” willingness to violate our citizens and our Constitution and “Bill of Rights”, over his championing of the disgusting policy of forcibly taking blood. Back in the late 70’s as an officer I was involved in an incident where we had “real” probable cause to forcibly take blood from a convicted killer doing life in our prison. Three years after I had left the department the state had to fly me back to go to Federal Court for violating this inmates Civil Rights, that was over 30+ years ago!!! Yet today we have those in office in Wise County and the state of Texas that believe they can alter the protections provided for “hundreds of years” by our Constitution and Bill of Rights as they see fit, and this is being forced on “supposed” free people not convicted killers, I personal find that utterly disgusting!

    What Mr. Stanton does not say, is if you forcibly take blood and the presents of pot is found there is no way to tell what level of influence a person is impaired or if they are impaired at “all”! The pot showing up can be from usage “weeks” ago. There again same with prescription drugs everybody’s tolerances are different so “truthfully” knowing if a citizens is impaired is “NOT” known! This is a prime example of how our Freedoms and Liberties our being manipulated away under the guise of “for our own safety”! Sadly in our schools our young are being taught to accept their Freedoms and Liberties being violated, there again under the guise of for their own safety. The truth is many young and old a like are becoming addicted and losing their lives, so “if” this failure known as the war on drugs is working, why is this happening and getting worse???

    I invite all to http://www.DrugWarFacts.org and http://www.drugwarvictims.org so you can see the truth and reality of our failed policies and the harm being self justified by those making a living off the misery of others!

    There Has To Be A Better Way, help us find it!

    Rusty White
    Speaker http://www.leap.cc

  2. Eva Czerniak says:

    Mr. White,

    If there were a law in place that made it mandatory to draw blood on all drivers involved in accidents involving serious bodily injury or death then there would be more people in jail. Had blood been drawn the night my daughter and her friend were killed the person that caused that accident would be in jail right now for intoxication manslaughter because of prescription drug addiction. He now has had 3 more DWI’s while driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and hit and run, failure to stop and render aide. He plowed in to a woman going 95 an hour and ran. Had the law been in place he would not be on the road now. But he is waiting trial. Which I hope he gets put away for a long time. But sad to say it will probably only be plea bargained down and they will put him right back one the road to endanger other innocent people! The day you take that drivers license test and get your license say’s you know what the laws are. That should be voluntary consent! I’m sorry but that does not violate your rights. If you have nothing to hide then you would not mind bleeding a little. My daughters blood was taken without consent. The driver that hit her his blood was drawn because he had a CDL which is mandatory. So what is the difference. I hope you don’t lose one of yours one day and get no justice like our girls. Driving is a privilege not a right and it comes with responsibilities!

    Eva Czerniak

  3. Rusty White says:

    Eva,

    While I truly feel for your lose, I myself have lost family and friends to the ignorance and irresponsibility’s of others! But that in “no way” justifies ruining the lives of “millions” for the ignorance of a few and this minorities self justified fear mongering witch hunt, does it? The person you spoke of that harmed your family should be under the jail, not in it!

    “” That should be voluntary consent!”” Our ancestors did not die for us to become sheeppople who willfully accept being abuse by the self proclaimed witch hunt of a minority!

    “”I’m sorry but that does not violate your rights.”” You would be wrong in your belief, not matter how well meaning or self justified you try and claim. IMHO

    “”If you have nothing to hide then you would not mind bleeding a little.”” You still don’t get it, it is not the fact of giving blood that is the problem. It is the fact our public servants and a “minority” have manipulated the rights of all of us to suit their self serving agendas. The Bill of Rights is very clear, “ nor shall be compelled in “”ANY”” criminal case to be a witness against himself”, PERIOD!!! It does say unless some self proclaimed supposed public servant has a self serving agenda that he and a “minority” has manipulated in to being!

    Do you remember when the seat belt laws came in to being? They “all” swore it would never be used for a reason to stop anyone! Then they manipulated it in to being, well if your stopped for another reason then you can be ticketed! Now it is the sole reason to “”create”” probable cause for stopping us, and in many places a 300 Dollar fine! As well as used to demand a search of you and your vehicle! Anytime “no matter” how well meaning we give up a Freedom it is always manipulated in to away to abuse us in other ways!

    Those before us did not sacrifice their lives for us to “roll over” and give away our Freedoms and Liberties no matter how well meaning or how “some” self justify it! These Freedoms and Liberties have been protected “in whole” not in parts for over two hundred years! Each generation is “INTRUSTED” with preserving them “ALL” not jst parts of them to be past “in whole” on to those coming behind us, and we have failed miserably! If we don’t take a stand now those coming behind us will have NO Freedoms or Liberties one day! I’ll be dam*ed if I will shame those that came before us by “rolling over”, no matter how anyone or any self serving organization attempts to self justify it, PERIOD!!!

    It isn’t about you or I and our loses, at the hands of a “minority” of ignorance of a few! It is about honoring the sacrifices of those before us while accepting the duty to preserve and pass on what they died to give us, intact “NOT” just some of it! This nation and it’s people and laws were not founded by those faint of heart or those ruled by fear, sadly the same can not be said for our generation! IMHO

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