Abby Beaulieu, 26, has a great life: she lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. with her husband and four-year-old son. But just six years ago, she was hopelessly addicted to OxyContin. Now, she’s on a mission to spread the word about the dangers of prescription drug addiction. Through her blog, My Life. My Story., she aims to break down the stigma surrounding painkiller addiction and show that it really can happen to anyone. Oxy Watchdog caught up with Beaulieu to learn more about her story and what she hopes to accomplish with her blog.
Watchdog: Tell us about the path that led you to OxyContin. When and how did you fall into your addiction?
AB: My father is an alcoholic, and at age 11 my parents got a divorce. At age 13, my father was alone dealing with his addiction, and I felt the need to go be with him. I get serious anxiety when I feel somebody is feeling lonely, or is lonely. I thought that if I was with him and he wasn’t alone, he would not drink. That was not the case. At 13, I became the adult, while he was the child, picking up beer cans and liquor bottles, not going to school for fear what I would come home to, helping him detox when his binges were over. At 16, I met a guy who was abusive in every aspect. He was over 21, so I started enabling my father and buying him alcohol because in return he would write me a check for over $300, not knowing he was fueling my addiction as well: I had started smoking pot at 12.
Prior to meeting my boyfriend, he had been a serious car accident and broke both of his feet. His doctors had him on pain pills for a year and a half and cut him off rather than weaning him off, so he was deeply addicted. A couple days after we met, he introduced me to Roxicodone and I snorted my first pill. The next pill I snorted was OxyContin. When I first started using Oxy I was doing two 40-milligram pills a day, which gradually lead to me shooting about three 80-mg pills a day. After not feeling the effects the way I wanted to, I started shooting them up because the high was better. My using was so much deeper than the addiction: it was the everyday pain that numbed me from feeling, numbed me from worrying about my father and the betrayal I put my mother through. My father (with whom I have no communication today) was clueless to the fact that I was using, even though I weighed 85 pounds soaking wet, until the day I called him to give me a ride to rehab. He did not take me.
W: Florida has long been one of the epicenters of prescription drug abuse. How did you get your pills? Was it easy to find them?
AB: The pills were way too easy to get. I would babysit my friend’s kids because he got them from the doctor and he would hook me up with some pills, which I would hide them from my boyfriend. In a small town in Ohio, where I lived for awhile, they were also everywhere. I could walk down the street and see somebody I knew and they would have pills in their pocket that they were willing to sell.
W: Did you feel ashamed about your addiction or try to hide it?
AB: At the time, yes, I tried to hide it. Of course living in a small town with tons of family around, I think they all knew, but nobody ever tried to step in. I wonder now how they could not notice a 16-year-old girl going from 120 pounds to 85 pounds in just a short time.
W: What did it feel like to go into withdrawals or detox?
AB: It was indescribable. Physically, it was up to seven days of feeling like bugs were crawling on me, I had the chills, I had body aches, I wasn’t able to sleep. But the mental symptoms were far more intense and lasted a lot longer. I have anxiety and depression, so after getting off the drugs, it fueled the mental symptoms more. It was almost like I was going through a grieving process because OxyContin was my life, my love, my everything.
W: When did you hit your rock bottom, and what was it that made you turn things around?
AB: I hit my rock bottom when I was homeless and living from place to place. I remember being at a friend’s house and I looked in the mirror. That was all it took. I was not only shooting OxyContin, but smoking crack as well, staying up for days on end and then coming down. It did not matter if I overdosed or not. I remember turning on the shower and just crying so hard in the corner of the bathroom. My face was sunken in, my eyes were so dark. I had been up for seven days shooting coke, smoking crack, and shooting OxyContin. I did not wake anybody up. I went across the street to a pay phone and called my mom at her work and spilled the beans about everything.
W: Before you did pills, did you ever think you would someday pick up a needle?
AB: Never in a million years. Even when I was using the needle, I still could not believe I was doing it. I will now forever live with hepatitis C because of the choices I made during my addiction. When I would get blood drawn for check-ups, they had to use pediatric needles because I hated needles so much…that is when you realize you will do anything to get high.
W: Do you have friends who have died of opiate overdoses, and if so what impact did their deaths have on you or others around them?
AB: Too many have overdosed and passed away, but when I was using, it never had an impact on me. I would go to their funerals, visit their gravesites and cry like a baby, but I was also high at the funeral, high while visiting. We all think we are so invincible when it comes to using drugs. Even if somebody we know overdoses and dies, we think and say to ourselves and others, “they had no idea what they were doing.” But really we are all thinking, “that would never happen to me.”
W: What are you doing now to make an impact and spread the word about the dangers of painkiller abuse, and what do you hope to accomplish?
AB: I am making an impact and spreading the word by blogging about my addiction and recovery. I am 110% open about my addiction to pain pills, using needles, and my recovery process. I feel it is so important for more individuals to speak out, not only about painkiller abuse, but about addiction. The stigma associated with addiction is terrible in my eyes. Not everybody understands, and most addicts suffer in silence for so long. I felt that starting my blog and Facebook page could get more individuals to open up about their addiction, and help more people to understand addiction. It is not just that we are addicted, the problems are much deeper. We are trying to hide from something, covering up the pain we do not want to feel on a daily basis. I want people to see that addiction could be anybody: not just the homeless, not just the bully at school. There is no particular demographic or “type” of person you who tends to get hooked on pills. It is your brother, mother, sister, niece, nephew, mom, dad, or even your grandparents.
My goal is to break the stigma. I want everybody in the nation to understand addiction and not ridicule us addicts. I want people to see that addiction is everywhere and never say “it won’t happen to my kid” because it could. I want to be the voice of the silent.
W: What level of responsibility do you think the pharmaceutical industry has in the painkiller addiction epidemic? How about doctors? And what do you think needs to happen to fix the problem?
AB: In my opinion, pharmaceutical companies failed to stress how highly addictive these drugs can be. I also blame it on the doctors for not trying other methods to fix the pain, because the pain pills are only a temporary fix. I think it is important for doctors to be more educated on addiction and what these pain pills can do – and that goes for the pharmaceutical companies as well. If a patient says they are in pain, doctors are ready to get the prescription pad out. People are also doctor-shopping and I think something on the government level needs to be done about that. The system needs to change with pharmacies being able to track individuals that doctor shop. I also think treatment should be made more affordable, and it should be easier for addicts to get help. I view addiction as a disease and it should be medically treated as such.
Visit Abby’s blog, My Life. My Story., here.
View her Facebook page here.
Follow her on Twitter at @2011Mystory.
Email Abby at firstname.lastname@example.org.