Every day, prescription drug and heroin addiction touches the lives of ordinary people. Here are some of their stories.
If you live on the West Coast, take note that the second annual ENOUGH! Rally is set to be held on March 24, 2014 on the south steps of the California State Capitol building in Sacramento from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. According to the rally’s website, the goal of the event is to educate the public and to advocate for legislation and other action that can make a difference in curbing the prescription drug epidemic.
More details, according to the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse, which is organizing the event:
Pick up free educational materials at information tables and learn about the prevention and substance abuse treatment efforts organizations and treatment centers from around the state are engaged in. Stop by our legislation table to learn about prescription drug-related legislation being introduced during this legislative session and how to voice your support for it.
Multiple organizations will be on hand to provide free prescription drug related educational materials and information about the work they’re doing to make a difference in the area of prevention. Guest speakers include state legislators and advocacy groups who are sponsoring key legislation, representatives from several prevention and substance abuse treatment facilities and parents and others who have been personally impacted by this epidemic. A special dedication ceremony will be held for those lost to or otherwise impacted by prescription drug abuse/misuse.
Last year’s rally came after members of advocacy organizations, including the NCAPDA, and other individuals and experts testified at a hearing that the California medical board had failed to investigate complaints of physician misconduct in a timely manner, often leading to deadly results.
Prescription drug addiction activists across the nation are planning a rally to urge federal agencies to take action to prevent new cases of opioid addiction, prevent more overdose deaths and ensure access to effective treatment for millions who have become addicted.
The rally, called “Fed Up! Rally for a Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic,” will be held Oct. 1 from noon to 2 p.m. at Capitol Hill (Upper Senate Park) in Washington, D.C., according to organizers.
Activists say addiction and overdose deaths due to narcotic painkillers and heroin
are one of the nation’s most urgent public health problems, and that the epidemic has placed a tremendous strain on the nation’s health care system, businesses, and local and state governments. Federal agencies, meanwhile, have been too slow and ineffective in responding to the problem, they say.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, please consider attending a rally being held this Monday, March 11 in Sacramento by the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse and other organizations and individuals throughout California. The rally will aim to educate the public about the dangers of abusing and misusing prescription drugs and to raise awareness about what actions need to be taken in California to manage the state’s prescription drug abuse crisis.
More information about the rally can be found here.
In addition, NCAPDA is sponsoring an event on Sunday, March 10 in Concord, Calif. that includes a showing of “Behind the Orange Curtain” and a panel presentation of experts in the area of prescription drug abuse. More info about that event can be found here.
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.
Earlier this week, pharmacy interest groups defeated an amendment to the Food and Drug Administration Safety Innovation Act that aimed to change the classification of hydrocodone-containing pain relief products from Schedule III to Schedule II, putting hydrocodone painkillers into the same category as OxyContin and Percocet. Hydrocodone is the most-prescribed prescription drug in the U.S., with 131.2 million prescriptions written in 2010 alone. The provision had been accepted as an amendment to the U.S. Senate’s version of the bill, but it was cut from the final bill that reconciled the Senate and House provisions after the Generic Pharmaceutical Association objected to it, claiming it would restrict access and increase prices to the painkillers.
Today, Oxy Watchdog caught up with the amendment’s author, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who said the bipartisan measure was defeated due to the efforts of high-powered and well-funded lobbyists representing groups that have a huge financial stake in keeping these pills as accessible as possible. But he vowed to continue the fight against prescription drug abuse, and said he planned to re-introduce the amendment in the future.
Watchdog: Tell us more about the reasons you decided to introduce this measure. What’s the landscape like in West Virginia regarding prescription drug abuse?
Joe Manchin: My reasons are the same as yours; the same as every person who has been affected by the prescription drug abuse epidemic. The thing that pushed me to this level was visiting a small town in West Virginia that has been ravaged by painkiller abuse. Young, 12- and 13-year-old boys and girls came to me and told me their families are being destroyed; their friends are overdosing and dying. They are asking us for help, and we’re not helping them. Shame on all of us.
Prescription drugs are responsible for 90 percent of drug-related deaths in my state, but this is a nationwide epidemic – I don’t know a person I’ve ever talked to who doesn’t know someone who has been affected by these drugs.
W: Law enforcement and addiction advocacy groups supported this measure. Who was behind its defeat?
JM: Those who supported the amendment were the people on the front lines who have been directly affected by this epidemic. The opponents were those who have financial interests.
W: What about the criticism that the amendment didn’t fit into current business models?
JM: I’m a businessman myself, and I know that when you have a business, you have a model for what it will take to succeed. But I know also that you have a backup plan. I would think that when these drugs were manufactured for the purpose of healing people, the plan wasn’t based around the idea that if patients become addicted, the companies would sell more pills. At the same time, if distributors and doctors are putting more of these drugs on the streets, this affects the original business plan. So they need to go to Plan B. They’ll still be able to survive, they’ll just be saving a few more lives.
Taking hydrocodone from Schedule III to Schedule II would keep it out of the hands of traffickers. Critics say this would be keeping products away from people who really need them, but it just means that patients would need an original prescription to get their pills refilled. Since 2007, doctors can provide patients with a 90-day supply of any Schedule II medication by issuing three prescriptions, one for an immediate supply and two additional prescriptions that can’t be filled until a certain date. If they receive a 90-day supply, patients would only need to visit their doctors four times per year, and if they are dealing with that kind of pain, they probably would want to be evaluated anyway.
W: What are the next steps for the reintroduction of the amendment?
JM: We’ll be asking HHS and the DEA to release their studies in order to find out how addictive these drugs really are. If they refuse, our next alternative will be to call for a Congressional hearing. We’re working with the agencies first, and will be sending a letter to them shortly. I’m not going to give up on this.
W: What would be needed from the public in order to get this passed?
JM: People need to share the devastating effects prescription drug abuse is having on their neighborhoods, friends, and families. Everybody’s got a story, and once we know the true extent of the problem, we can try to prevent or slow down this epidemic. The more of these stories we can get, the quicker this will get passed. But I assure you we will pass this sooner or later. The public can’t remain silent anymore.
Contact information for Sen. Manchin can be found here.
Learn more about his efforts to pass the amendment here.
Read a final summary of the bill here.
Orange County, Calif. may seem like the perfect place to live, but it has a dirty little secret: it’s number two in the country for deaths by prescription drug overdoses. In May 2010, Laguna Niguel resident Natalie Costa was thrust full force into the epidemic when her daughter Brianne called her from her high school, frantic: her good friend, 17-year-old Mark Melkonian, had passed away after overdosing on the painkiller Opana. Costa, who owns a performing arts school, teamed up with director Brent Huff to produce “Behind the Orange Curtain,” a full-length feature documentary that delves into the tragic trend afflicting the affluent area, which has more rehab centers per capita than any other county in the nation. The film premieres at this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival on May 2, and has been chosen by the Film Fund out of 400 films representing 50 countries as one of “five films to see.” Oxy Watchdog caught up with Costa ahead of the premiere for more details on the making of the documentary and the extent of the pill addiction epidemic in Orange County.
Watchdog: Tell us more about why you decided to make this documentary.
NC: When we found out my daughter’s friend had died of a drug overdose, we had no idea he was even using – never mind that he was using prescription drugs, or what Opana even was. I took my daughter and her friend to [Mark’s] funeral; it was her first one. The church was packed – people were lined up out the door and around the corner. The bishop brought Mark’s casket into the lobby and opened it, and my daughter saw her first dead body. It was very traumatic. At that point, I knew something had to be done, but I didn’t know what. It was crazy that someone as bright and enigmatic as Mark could die of a drug overdose.
I was hoping that Mark’s death would have an impact on other kids using, but it really didn’t, and that was the sad part. Six months later, I met Jodi Barber, whose 19-year-old son Jarrod had also passed away of an overdose of Opana, Seroquel and Clonazepam. Jodi and her friend Christine Brant came to my academy and wanted to do an educational video. I thought we could take it to another level. I really believed the message had to get out. The whole thing happened by word of mouth. From there, it just exploded. Every day we were inundated with phone calls from parents who lost kids to overdoses, or whose kids were currently struggling. We had so many people contact us, we actually had to eliminate interviews. It was a real eye opener for me. Here in Orange County, we have gated communities, blue ribbon schools, the finest activities for our kids, famous churches. So why were these kids turning to prescription drugs? We wanted the film to be about awareness, and to be a call to action. We had to shake people up.
W: Describe what you consider to be one of the most powerful scenes in the film.
NC: We went to the Orange County Coroner’s office to film one day. It’s a big, beautiful building, but very cold. There’s one huge room with a window and a metal door. When it slides open, you’re in an ice-cold room that smells of bleach. There are bodies in white plastic bags. They have toe tags, and some of them have bags with their belongings sitting on top of them. Their heads are covered, but you can still see the shape of them. I took my daughter with me. Any mother can take her daughter out to lunch, but when I’m dead, she’ll be able to say that her mom took her to the morgue. The ironic thing was that the very first body was someone she knew who had passed away earlier that week. I took her picture as she became overwhelmed, and that’s one of the pictures that ended up on the film’s poster.
Another powerful thing about the film is the parents [we interviewed], particularly the dads. As a female and a mother, it’s natural to be emotional. But when I’m watching these fathers talk about trying to reach their daughter, and then getting a phone call that she’s dead, or a firefighter being hours away from home and getting a call that the paramedics are at his house doing CPR on his son – that’s powerful. To see the dads break down, that tears me up.
The other remarkable thing is that the whole film is based on parents coming together to tell their stories in the hopes that there will be a great awakening on the part of the community. They had to relive these horrible experiences, and they were willing to do so at the drop of a hat so that others might be saved.
W: What about parents who haven’t been touched by prescription drug addiction – or who think it can’t happen to their family? Do you see a lot of denial in your community?
NC: I tell parents all the time, this is a door I opened, and there’s no going back. A lot of them will look you in the eye, and they’re sympathetic, but it’s not in their reality yet. You have to tell them about the statistics. In the film, these aren’t people living under a bridge. These are people who did everything to give their kid a leg up on life, but their child made a choice, and that choice took them down this road. There’s definitely still a sense of “it’s not going to happen to me.” But more and more, at any social gathering, when you start talking about the problem, everyone knows someone who has been affected. People are really starting to open up.
W: And the kids? Is there a sense of infallibility, even with the deaths of their peers?
NC: For some kids, maybe the ones who haven’t tried pills or heroin yet, the danger seems to have registered. But not for others. I was at a dinner party in my neighborhood recently, and their kid had an Oxy problem and was smoking heroin. He’s not doing those drugs anymore, but he’s still into weed and drinking. I don’t know what would actually shock a child away from it. I think kids really think they’re invincible. It’s like, “it sucks that it happened to that kid, but it’s not going to happen to me.” And alcohol makes them feel infallible, leading them to pop pills, and from pills to heroin.
Heroin was always a dirty word, but now these kids are switching to it because it’s too hard to get pills, or too expensive. The kids tell me it’s about $10 per milligram right now, so if you’re using 500 or 600 milligrams a day, you could be smoking heroin for a lot less money. And then you turn to the needle.
I wish no one ever had to tell this story. The football captain, the president of the student body – why are they turning to heroin? But it doesn’t matter if you live on Park Avenue or on a park bench. Once opiate addiction takes over, there is a very small chance of survival.
For tickets to the film, visit the festival’s website.
Jodi Barber and Christine Brant’s short film, Overtaken, is also showing at the festival.
Like many young adults, Mason and Michaela of Marin County, Calif. saw their lives spin out of control after getting hooked on OxyContin in their teens. Today, Mason (now 24) and Michaela (now 23) are finally free from Oxy’s grip and are speaking out about the devastating effects of the prescription painkiller at high schools and youth leadership camps. Oxy Watchdog asked the pair – who met in recovery and have been dating since Aug. 2010 – to share more about how they got to where they are today, and their efforts to help prevent others from going down a similar path.
Watchdog: Tell us about how you grew up, and how your addiction progressed.
Mason: I played sports growing up, and I aspired to be a professional baseball player. I was picked to play on the varsity team as a freshman in high school, but after two games I got caught smoking weed and was kicked off the team. After that I began failing out of my classes and became lost. Eventually I was sent to a continuation high school, which was like a training ground for drug addicts. I met a girl who had a prescription for Darvocet and Percocet to treat her rheumatoid arthritis, and she was always taking these pills, so I started taking them too. After a few weeks I tried OxyContin, and after a month I couldn’t afford the Oxys anymore, so I started doing heroin. Soon I was shooting up to 4 or 5 grams of heroin a day and also doing cocaine and pills, as well as methadone.
Michaela: My dad drank, and my mom didn’t like it, so my family life was difficult and I took on the role of the hero. I thought that if I was the perfect kid, popular and pretty, maybe he would stop drinking and my mom would be happy. The summer going into high school, I had my first drink while sleeping over at my friend’s house. It was tequila and orange juice, and she hated it, but I loved it. I was obsessive in everything I did, so I started drinking more even though I maintained a 3.4 GPA, I was volunteering, I was singing the anthem at sports events. But the way I drank was embarrassing and shameful. I never had a “that’s enough” button. I was waking up in the ER and being told that I had almost died. It didn’t faze me. I had ruined so many relationships that I transferred schools, and promised myself it would be different this time. By that time my mom had split up with my dad and had joined Al-Anon. I went to meetings, but I kind of felt like my life was over. How do you be sober when you’re that young?
Then I met a guy in AA who talked about Oxy and was shocked that I had never done drugs. His dad had Oxy around the apartment, and one day he was doing a line, and I was curious. I thought I would just do it once, I thought “my problem is drinking.” But it was instant love. It was so much better than alcohol. I felt numb, nothing could touch me. I wanted to feel that way all the time.
W: When did you know that you had a problem, and did you seek treatment?
Mason: I went to my first treatment center when I was 20 years old, but I didn’t get sober. I was still beating the system and getting high. I flew back home, and started living on the streets, sleeping on couches, and using. I kept thinking that a geographical change would help, so I moved around a lot. I would stop using for periods of time, but my relapses always started with Oxy. I was so battered. I had a breakthrough on March 17, 2008 when I started opening my ears more to Alcoholics Anonymous. I realized that the key to sobriety is honesty. Then I moved to New York City to go to acting school, and I brought four 80s with me. I thought to myself, “this is the end.” I was running and eating healthy, but doing Oxys at night. They were gone in three days, and I was up in Spanish Harlem looking for heroin. Seven months in, I’d caught pneumonia, I was failing my classes, I was selling all my possessions for drugs. I was close to death.
Michaela: Within seven months of using Oxy, I wanted to die. I was going to dangerous places to get pills, and I wasn’t even scared because I was so high. I had no fear, no happiness, all of my feelings were gone. I felt untouchable. But I also felt angry, irritable, and bitter. And I felt myself drifting away. One night I felt my soul was leaving, like it was above my body. I felt like death was around the corner.
W: Did you have a “rock bottom” moment?
Mason: My dad was in a motorcycle accident and was in a coma. I flew home and sat with him, it was 50/50 whether he would live or die. And despite that, I stole his credit cards and flew back to New York as if nothing had ever happened. That brought me to my knees. I realized I couldn’t live like that. I called my mom begging for help and she agreed to get me into another treatment program. On March 17, 2010, exactly two years after my first sobriety date, I went into treatment and the same guy checked me in.
Michaela: On Sept. 13, 2008, it hit me. I thought, “we’re not going up from here.” I was a little girl with all these dreams, and they were all gone. I thought of myself playing soccer as an 8-year-old girl, with such freedom. I had a “God moment.” I turned on the TV and the 700 Club was on, and they were saying, “if you are addicted to drugs, you don’t have to live like that anymore.” The darkness seeped away, and I felt like I just had to walk out the door. I was so broken down that I was willing to do whatever it took to get sober.
W: Why do you think some people succeed at staying clean – was there a particular turning point for you, or did it just sink in over the course of time?
Mason: For me, I think it was a combination of being so desperate, my willingness to be honest, and being open-minded. I can name multiple times that I overdosed; you would think that kind of rock bottom would do the trick, but it didn’t. I was terrified of death; I would nod out, and hear myself stop breathing, feel myself turning blue. Not everyone makes it back, but I did. It takes a complete surrender. The people that came before you hold you up and support you, it’s like being born all over again.
W: What do you think parents and kids need to know about the dangers of prescription drugs?
Mason: These drugs are so prevalent, and kids are dying. People need to educate themselves about it. But for addicts, they need to find their own road. Unfortunately, Oxy is synthetic heroin, and it’s more expensive, so heroin is the next logical step.
My desperation was a gift. My life is amazing today; I have a beautiful relationship with Michaela, I work at a treatment center, and I’m trying to become an addiction counselor. I have the life I used to lie about.
Michaela: My parents were totally in shock about the extent of my addiction. As for myself, I used to think that I would never do drugs. But it was like slipping into a wormhole. Oxy became a fad, and everyone is doing it. These aren’t bad kids, but if you stay on it long enough, you’ll go to heroin. Whether you’re an addict or not, you’ll get hooked. And there’s such a bigger world out there. If you get addicted, you’re not going to be able to be a part of that world.
Get in touch with Mason and Michaela by emailing them at MacMic11@aol.com.
The Rubins were once a typical suburban family in San Diego, Calif., but that existence was shattered when Sherrie and Mike’s then-23-year-old son Aaron overdosed on OxyContin on Oct. 5, 2005. Many Oxy overdose victims either die, or recover and continue to battle their addiction. But Aaron was thrust into a different kind of living hell. A loss of oxygen to his brain had brought him to the brink of death, and after suffering a series of heart attacks and strokes, doctors had nearly given up hope. Miraculously, Aaron survived. Now confined to a wheelchair, Aaron is 29 and can no longer walk or speak. He can only communicate using his fingers, using one for yes, and two for no. The Rubins are committed to spreading the word about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. They founded an organization, H.O.P.E Drug Awareness, Education and Treatment Inc., that provides support for families needing early intervention in overcoming addictions to prescription drugs and/or heroin. They also travel the country giving presentations to students and parents, using Aaron’s story as an example. Oxy Watchdog spoke with Mike (far right in picture) and Sherrie (third from left, next to Aaron, in wheelchair) about their journey.
Watchdog: Tell us about Aaron’s overdose.
Sherrie Rubin: Aaron had been at a party and went to spend the night at a friend’s house who he had known his whole life. Unfortunately, the family didn’t immediately call 911 when he was found blue and unresponsive, and every second you don’t have oxygen results in another level of debilitation in the body. In Aaron’s case, there were about 24 minutes of wasted time. When we got to the ER, the doctors told us we were going to lose our son that day. They told us to get a funeral plot, we called our rabbi, we did prayers. We had no hope that he was going to live at all.
He was put on life support, and we were pretty much just crying on the floor of the ER. His lungs collapsed, but then they got him breathing a tiny bit. He was off and on, living, dying, living, dying. We signed a DNR [do not resuscitate order] and started making funeral arrangements, and they said it was time to let him go. But I noticed that every time I spoke in his ear, he moved his head back and forth, and I felt he could hear me. We ordered another round of tests, and the next day, they pulled us aside and said he was improving.
W: When was it clear that even though Aaron was incapacitated physically, he could hear and understand you?
SR: Aaron was the leader of the gang, he was “the man.” He had a softball team, and they won the championship when he was in the ICU and brought him a t-shirt they had all signed, it was hanging in the room. One day I decided to read him the things the guys had written, things like “you always shot it out of the park, this one’s for you.” Aaron started crying, and I knew then for sure that he was in there and could understand. It was joyous, but at the same time, this was another type of death. Aaron was unable to speak, he was trapped in his body and unable to use his hands or express his needs or thoughts. So the devastation was also tremendous.
W: What was Aaron like before the overdose?
Mike Rubin: Aaron was a great athlete, he went to good schools, and had good friends from good families. There is no rhyme or reason as to why he got addicted, or why anyone gets addicted. These kids are popular and fun, they’re great to have at parties because they’re the life of the party. Well, Aaron doesn’t get invited to parties anymore. Sometimes you don’t get a chance at tomorrow.
W: Why did you decide to go public with your family’s story?
SR: Aaron’s high school asked me to speak regarding prescription drugs, and he heard me rehearsing my speech and started crying. He wasn’t quite ready for me to go out with it publicly at that point. But later, life came back into his face when the DEA asked him to work with them. I constantly ask him if he wants me to share his story, and he says yes. This comes from him. As long as Aaron is willing to share his story, I’m willing to help be his voice to educate about the dangers of pills that most people probably don’t even think about.
I also asked him at one point if it was okay for me to read from his rehab journals, and he said yes. That was how I learned it was OxyContin [that caused his overdose]. I remembered being in the ICU and two of Aaron’s friends were visiting. A nurse came in and asked how long Aaron had been Oxy-dependent, and his friends looked down at the floor and didn’t answer. I didn’t know what the heck she meant. Later when I was reading Aaron’s journals, he wrote that he had been at the gym with friends, who were addicts, cooking Oxy to shoot. The bell went off in my head.
W: Were you aware of the extent of Aaron’s addiction before the overdose?
SR: In high school, there were rough times, but I just didn’t have the knowledge about prescription drug abuse. I thought all of his mood swings, the agitation, the not showing up for family events were all just typical, but they were warning signs that now I wouldn’t dismiss so easily. The complaints about his legs and muscles hurting, I thought maybe he was developing an autoimmune disorder because that runs in my family. I looked at the problems by what I knew. I would let my grandkids dig around in the dirt with spoons, and later when I wondered where all the spoons were, I thought it must have been them, not Aaron. I wish six years ago someone would have talked about pills more openly, because the one thing every parent thinks is that it will never happen to them.
MR: We couldn’t have done anything more. If we could have, we would have. We tried very hard to get him into counseling, and he wasn’t ready to embrace it. The disease of addiction is so strong, but for those of us who aren’t addicted, we can’t understand the strength and the power of the addiction. You can’t stop a train from wrecking. Aaron’s story is like that of most addicts: he didn’t want to use, he was ashamed, he wanted to stop.
W: Do you see a lot of denial on the part of parents who are in the dark about the widespread extent of the prescription drug epidemic?
SR: Yes, many parents really think their families are untouchable. But no one is untouchable. We all go to the doctor, we all have prescription drugs in our houses. There has been a lot of resistance from parents, but now the tide is turning a bit because there have been so many recent deaths. Unfortunately, many parents are ashamed and don’t want to come forward. But I volunteered at my son’s school, we were involved in every aspect of his life, and it still happened. I gave up my career, I wanted to make sure I did everything I could to provide a good future for my children. Aaron was just a regular kid, people loved him. But this takes over your brain. Yes, the first few times you use, it’s a choice, but at some point it will become a disease. That’s what more people need to understand.
And the kids now – Generation RX – they have been inundated since birth to take a pill for everything. When I was growing up, we had Vicks and Pepto Bismol. The medicine today is different. People think that because it comes from a doctor, it can’t be dangerous. This perception has to be changed. It can be good medicine when you need it, but if you abuse it, you will end up an addict, dead, or with the challenges Aaron now has every single day.
W: It is such a difficult question, what’s more terrible – living in the purgatory of an ongoing addiction or experiencing the death of a loved one. But Aaron’s situation is something a lot of people probably don’t consider.
SR: Exactly. Aaron’s death was my worst fear, but never in a million years did I think his life would be what it is today. Our family dynamics will never be the same. He survived, but he’s not the son I knew. Emotionally, I wake up every day and I grieve for him. I see him struggle, and I see the wasted potential every day. There is no putting it to rest. Every day is hopeful, but every day is also sad. All we can do is try to have a good day. We’re happy and grateful that he’s here, but we’re not happy about the challenges he now has.
I have asked Aaron whether the quality of life he has to today is anyone else’s fault but his own, and he says no. And we can accept that, because we know we did everything possible for him. You always wish you could have done more, but in all honesty, if the overdose hadn’t happened that night, it would have happened another night. I know that there is nothing more I could have done other than chain him up in a cell, which I was not empowered to do.
W: How did Aaron’s overdose affect your family, besides the obvious changes in your day-to-day lives?
MR: Aaron’s younger brother also became addicted to pills, and later heroin. And two years to the day of Aaron’s overdose, we relived another overdose [with his brother]. He recovered, only to resume using, went into rehab and therapy, was ten months sober, and came out and relapsed. It’s a disease that haunts these kids, and we will be haunted forever by it. You worry every day that you’ll get a call. What’s the call, are they alive or are they dead? It’s terrible.
W: What advice do you have for parents with kids addicted to pills?
SR: If you see the warning signs, get help now, before they’re 18 and you can’t help them. Aaron wanted help, but we didn’t understand the disease of addiction. Addicts can manipulate you into believing any story. They really do believe they’re okay. But it’s so hard with opiates, because they’re so strong. At some point, if it doesn’t kill them, it becomes a habit. That’s why so many youths are dying. They think it’s okay because it’s not a dirty street drug, but it’s just as powerful as heroin, if not more powerful. Oxy is synthetic heroin. And it gets expensive trying to feed a pill habit, while $40 in black tar heroin can get you through two days.
Our goal is to try to make schools and parents understand that it’s necessary to have this kind of education in middle school, prior to these kids making the choice to have some “fun.” Not one pill, one person or one party is worth your future and your independence.
W: What level of responsibility do you place on doctors or the pharmaceutical industry for playing a role in the prescription drug abuse epidemic?
MR: Sherrie and I are unified that it won’t help to blame anybody. It’s an unfortunate thing that anyone can become addicted to pills, and that it’s an easy segueway to heroin, and those who don’t use can’t understand it. I used to think “just stop, what’s wrong with you?” I didn’t understand that it was physically, emotionally and psychologically powerful, this addiction. We have to do a better job of educating our kids. The federal government has enough problems, and we’re losing way too many of our loved ones to this war. The only way to have a better shot at the next bunch of kids is through education. We have to be unified. It doesn’t matter what your persuasion or race is, we are one people, and we are the biggest consumers of drugs here in the U.S.
W: Did you ever personally struggle with feelings of shame as a parent because of what happened to Aaron?
MR: I have never felt ashamed. Like most families, we were good parents and loved our children. We raised them to be good people. The way I look at it is that Aaron got injured in a war, just like a soldier. Our youth is fighting a war against the accepted tolerance of drugs in our society, and he didn’t have a good outcome.
W: What does Aaron’s future look like?
MR: His prognosis medically is not good. He’s unique in that he survived a serious drug overdose, and 90% of people who overdose die. So he’s one of the unlucky to OD, but has been “lucky” enough to survive with life-changing disabilities, the loss of his speech, his mobility, his whole future. He’s there, he’s happy, but he’s stuck in a prison inside his own body. I always say I wish he went to prison, then I would have more of him. That said, we are always hopeful there will be a day when he will have more independence.
Aaron always loved attention, and he gets a great deal of pleasure out of sharing his story. He likes shaking everybody’s hand afterward and embracing people, and they really seem to enjoy hearing his story and opening up about their own family’s issues with drug and alcohol abuse.
Watch a video about Aaron below, or visit H.O.P.E.’s Facebook page for more information. You can also contact Sherrie directly at At Rollin’ With Rubin – Prescription Pill Education, (858) 943-1697.
Jodi Barber and Christine Brant (far right and far left in the picture) of Laguna Niguel, Calif. are the brains behind “Overtaken,” a short documentary educating young adults on the truth about prescription drug addiction and the often deadly consequences pills have. Oxy Watchdog caught up with the two moms just ahead of the film’s release on Sept. 22.
Watchdog: How did you get involved in the issue of prescription drug addiction?
JB: This mission started 20 months ago when my 19-year-old son Jarrod died on Jan. 8, 2010 after overdosing on prescription pills. He had a quarter of an Opana pill he had bought from a kid he knew, and he crushed it, melted it, and inhaled the fumes. He also had drugs in his system from his own doctor – Seroquel, Cymbalta, and Klonopin.
CB: The most deadly of those was the Opana, and many kids don’t understand that when you break them in half or crush them or split them between friends, it removes the time-release coating and it’s all dumped into your system at one time.
W: How common is prescription drug abuse in your community? How many deaths have there been, and who is dying?
JB: Maybe I just wasn’t aware of the problem before Jarrod passed away, but after his death, it became a huge problem. His friend came home from the Army on a two-week leave to attend Jarrod’s funeral, relapsed while he was here, and died of a heroin overdose. The kid who sold Jarrod the Opana died about five months later, and 10 months later another close friend of Jarrod’s passed away. It’s to the point where these types of deaths are occurring on a monthly basis. It’s become an epidemic.
CB: Jodi was living every parent’s worst nightmare. I have four kids who by the grace of God have stayed away from using pills, but I was hearing about one after another after another passing away of these really strong opiate prescription drugs. My kids have gone to more funerals than I have. I knew immediately that there was something very wrong happening.
JB: It got to the point that I was speaking at the funerals of these kids, and kids were overdosing at the funerals. They just can’t stop. Jarrod had a friend who spoke at his service, and even with Jarrod dying he couldn’t stop using. He went into a rehab, came out for two weeks and overdosed and died.
W: With prescription painkillers being such a problem in your community, have you started to notice an increase in heroin addiction?
JB: Yes. These pills lead to heroin. The pills cost about $60-$70 per pill right now in this area, and so many kids have turned to black tar heroin, which is about $4 a balloon.
CB: When you think about people addicted to heroin, it used to be an inner-city type of thing. We live in an affluent beach community, and generally speaking, you didn’t see heroin addiction as a major problem. But it all starts with the pills. These kids end up needing more to get the same high as they did in the beginning, and it’s too expensive.
JB: It’s not so much that they need the high anymore, as they have these horrible cravings. I need my coffee every morning, and this is a hundred thousand times worse for these poor kids who crave pills, it’s so sad. And the doctors know how addicting these pills are.
W: Speaking of doctors, what role do you think they are playing in the rising rates of pill addiction?
JB: For a lot of these kids, it all starts with an injury in high school. The doctor starts them out on Vicodin and muscle relaxers, which is totally unnecessary. Jarrod went to his doctor for help; this doctor knew Jarrod had an addiction problem, and yet he gives him handfuls of Seroquel, which is a drug for psychotic people. Another father whose son went to this doctor pleaded with the doctor not to give any more pills to his son because his son was now an addict. The doctor said that because the son was over 18, there was nothing he could do. There are so many dirty doctors who are handing out pills, including Dr. Lisa Tseng, who I believe contributed to my son’s death because the boy Jarrod bought the Opana from went to her. She is directly responsible for the deaths of kids who have overdosed, and those who are addicts. I went right into her office and confronted her. She had written six scripts in one week’s time for one kid. I told her, “you’re the professional; these kids don’t have cancer.” The first thing in a doctor’s oath is do no harm. She was prescribing deadly combinations, and she knew that these kids coming to her weren’t terminally ill.
The other issue is the pharmacies here. I went to one after Jarrod passed away, and asked the pharmacist if he was filling Opana prescriptions for kids. He said yes, all the time, but don’t yell at me – yell at the doctor. But he has a choice to say no and not fill them; he knows what these pills are doing to these kids. It made me sick. It’s all about the money.
CB: That’s why awareness is so critical. If these doctors don’t care out of the goodness of ethics, maybe they will care that the press is getting wind of it, and that they might be exposed for their unethical behavior.
W: Tell us about the making of “Overtaken” and what your goals were in producing it.
CB: Jodi had made posters on the dangers of prescription drugs and put them up in the windows of places where kids hang out. When I saw them, I immediately felt like somebody was doing something, finally. Together we sat down and decided to spread awareness. Kids are dying, and we can’t just sit around and do nothing. We hired a media company and pulled together a group of kids whose lives have been destroyed by addiction. We shot all of the interviews in one day and edited it down to a 28-minute movie, which is the right timing for high school assemblies. The kids in the video talk about what they would do if they could go back, and how their choices dictated where their lives ended up. We hope that maybe some kid sitting in the audience will think twice after seeing the movie; maybe his or her life can be different.
W: What have been some of the effects of prescription drug abuse on parents and families? Are they in denial? Is there shame associated with it?
JB: Unfortunately, there is a lot of shame surrounding prescription drug addiction, and it’s been really hard to get moms to come out and talk about it. There’s one section in our city where there have been four overdose deaths in just a few blocks, and every one of those mothers is saying it was a health problem. But everyone knows these kids were all friends, and that these were overdoses. It is shameful, but you have to get beyond that and try to save a life. These are beautiful kids who don’t deserve to have their lives taken away. If the component of shame doesn’t change, this totally startling increase in drug overdose deaths will continue to rise.
CB: We need to stop and be honest and be real. Don’t say your kid died because he had an allergy to peanuts; everyone knows, and you’re not fooling anyone. Your daughter didn’t spend the semester with grandma; she was at rehab. Jodi opened up the discussion and put it on a poster. She gave out her phone number for people to call if they needed help, and her phone hasn’t stopped ringing since. Maybe she can save one mother from living the pain that she now lives every moment of every hour of every day. We need to stand together as a community. If not me, then who? If not now, then when? We need to stop worrying about what everybody’s thinking and support each other mother to mother, neighbor to neighbor, to stop this wildfire that is racing through our community.
The school board originally didn’t want to put up our posters for the film because they were too “distracting.” I think it’s a little more distracting for kids to have to attend the funerals of their peers. They just want everything to look good, but the fact is that of the 2008 graduating class from this school, eleven kids have died of overdoses. We’re not talking they got mixed up in drugs, or went to rehab, we’re talking dead. If those eleven kids died any other way, like they all got cancer, or got in a school bus accident, or contracted the swine flu, it would be on every news channel and in every paper. But nobody, not one person, has reported that they all overdosed and died. Overdose deaths have increased 147% since 2007, and Orange County is now number two in the nation for the highest number of unintentional fatal overdoses. Yet nobody’s really talking about it. This is an epidemic, and that’s not an over-estimation.
JB: It’s the dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about until it happens to them. They think it’s the kid’s choice, but everyone makes wrong choices in life. These parents need to wake up and get help for their kids.
“Overtaken” premieres Thursday, Sept. 22 at 7pm in the Rancho Niguel Regency Theater. Learn more by visiting the movie’s Facebook page.
Amy Nicole Graves of Nova Scotia, Canada lost her 21-year-old brother Josh to an accidental overdose of the prescription painkiller Dilaudid (hydromorphone) in March 2011. She has since become an outspoken activist against prescription drug addiction through her website “Get Prescription Drugs Off the Streets.” Oxy Watchdog asked Graves to share about her efforts to bring more education and awareness to the issue of pill abuse.
Watchdog: Tell us about your brother Josh and what happened to him.
Amy Graves: It’s interesting because growing up, Josh wasn’t the addict in my family, it was actually our other brother who struggled with an addiction to prescription drugs. At the time he died, Josh wasn’t having any problems in his life. He had just gotten a new car, he got a great job transfer [back to our home town], he was looking for a mortgage. He had only been home four weeks when he attended a party with dealer who had sold drugs to my other brother. Josh split a Dilaudid pill with him. He was already intoxicated, and because he wasn’t a regular user, he had no tolerance. The combination with alcohol slowed down his heart rate and he never woke up.
W: Before your brother’s death, were you aware of prescription drug abuse? Was it a problem in your area?
AG: It was actually a huge problem in our area, but I still thought this could never happen to me. My brother who became addicted to pills would watch kids shoot up Dilaudid between their toes in the bathroom at school. I had friends who went into comas after overdosing on pills. I hate to say it, but I always thought, “maybe they’re doing something wrong.” I thought there was no way the doctors could go on prescribing pills like this forever; I didn’t say anything because I thought someone else would take care of the problem. It was too big of an issue not to get noticed. I never took responsibility; I just ignored it until Josh passed away.
We didn’t know right away that it was drugs that killed Josh, we didn’t find out until later. Here in Nova Scotia, the government won’t recognize it as a drug-related death until the official toxicology report comes back, and if it’s in combination with something else, it doesn’t count. I know of so many deaths that have happened since Josh’s death, and nobody wants to talk about them. These are all bright-eyed, handsome young people who are so full of life. It bothers me that there is something so senseless that can take them away from us, and it’s so preventable. The government isn’t going to admit it, because it looks bad for them, and unless the family speaks out about it, no one wants to talk about it because there’s a stigma and people are ashamed. That’s one of the reasons I’m being so vocal, so that others aren’t scared to speak out.
W: One of the issues you frequently mention is the lack of adequate treatment for prescription drug addiction. What do you think needs to change in this area?
AG: We have socialized healthcare, but the government has started to pull funding for addiction treatment facilities. For example, they recently took away the funding for the only 28-day program in my area, so it now costs $7,500 for 28 days. It makes no sense, because when someone shows up in the ER after drinking and driving, we pay for their treatment, but when it comes to addiction, our clinics keep closing.
With socialized healthcare, if you complain enough, it’s supposed to change. I’ve received so many letters from parents whose kids are abusing pills and they can’t get them treatment. I keep sending them to the government, hoping sooner or later they’ll dish out the cash.
W: It’s obvious that prescription drug addiction is an epidemic that is out of control. What changes do you believe are necessary in order to fix the problem?
AG: Part of the problem is that there’s no deterrent, no consequences. The authorities don’t want to deal with the over-prescribing doctors, even though it’s obvious who they are. I’ve also asked the police why the dealers aren’t getting caught. The last picture of my brother alive was taken with that drug dealer, but they said unless someone pinned him down and shoved the pill down my brother’s throat, they can’t arrest him. They won’t even charge him with trafficking.
It all comes down to money. Prosecuting costs money, and the Canadian government doesn’t like spending on that. In fact, the attitude toward drug- and alcohol-related crimes in general is kind of lax; my brother was found dead in the basement of an addiction counselor’s house and she wasn’t even questioned. Nor was the dealer. I’ve asked him to please just stop selling drugs, but he says it’s just business. I had a prescription drug awareness hour, and he showed up to sell drugs to an addicted kid who had been brought there by his mom.
W: What has been the reaction in your community to your protests?
AG: My community is very divided. People are very traditional and not very open-minded. There’s the perception that pill addicts are dirty junkies who deserve to just rot and die. I’ve done protests outside of pill mills where some people have come out and spit on me. They said their doctor was helping them and that I should try living in pain. One person who I knew in school told me to take a pill and die already like my brother. But it made me more sad and gave me more drive to do what I’m doing.
W: You have been very straightforward and open about your brother’s death despite the shame that often accompanies addiction. Why are you doing what you are doing?
AG: My siblings and I were always so close, and people make stupid choices all the time. For some reason I lucked out and it didn’t happen to me. I remember seeing kids in school doing pills and it didn’t look fun; they were drooling on themselves and nodding off and puking. Thank God because if I had tried it, I would probably be addicted. If this had happened to me, Josh would be out there in the streets livid. I don’t want to just be the sister of that kid who overdosed at a party; it’s better to tell the whole story. It can’t get any worse than what it already is. He’s gone, the damage is done. All I can do is try to make sure someone else doesn’t go through what we went through. I want his death to create awareness and change.
W: Is there denial in your community about the extent of the pill abuse epidemic?
AG: Yes. Parents are so afraid they’ll be blamed. How you were brought up affects the person that you are, but your parents are only with you so many hours a day. It’s so scary because it’s just a few short years when you’re trying to find yourself, but it’s enough time to destroy your life, and it doesn’t take long with opiate addiction. Even though Josh wasn’t an addict, if he had lived, he might have loved it and right now he could be a full-blown addict. People don’t think there is IV drug use around here. When you drive through the community, there are beautiful bed and breakfasts and wineries, you’d never think this kind of thing was going on. People think of drug addicts as dirty homeless people, and it’s not true. Most of the worst addicts in my high school were those who had the most money, the captain of the hockey team, the popular kids. It’s a suburban, middle-class problem. But the perception is way more glamorous than the reality. If you asked them to smoke crack, they’d say it’s disgusting, but these are the same people who are snorting synthetic heroin. In pill form, it’s not as scary.
A lot of people who legitimately want help don’t seek it because of the stigma. Lots of people overdose on methadone because they are ashamed to go into the public drugstore where they might see their neighbor or their kid’s teacher, so instead they buy it on the street and self-treat. They’re hiding in the shadows.
W: Do you think the pharmaceutical industry has done enough to address the addiction and deaths its products are causing?
AG: Absolutely not. It blows my mind that [OxyContin maker Purdue,] a company that has been criminally charged, can come into Canada and donate $130,000 to the chronic pain portion of a major hospital in Halifax to form a collaborative pain network. It sounds like they’re trying to help, but I think they see a market for their product. They said that one in five Nova Scotians suffers from chronic pain. They’re in that severe of pain that they need a drug like OxyContin? We’re not talking Tylenol here. And who’s policing this network that could involve over-prescribing doctors?
At first I never even questioned Big Pharma, but I had no idea what a can of worms I was opening. I started getting more information, and I couldn’t ignore what I learned. The more I educate myself on the problem, the more I see it all comes back to money and the pharmaceutical industry. People say you should take time to grieve, but I can’t. It’s like knowing the house is on fire and saying the fire department will deal with it. Until I see a change, I won’t stop advocating. Why are we letting something so easily preventable happen?
W: What role do you believe doctors play in this phenomenon?
AG: We put doctors up on a pedestal and pay them all this money; we put all our trust in them. Pills are coming from legal prescriptions. Where’s the investigation? Who’s being held accountable? People need to start questioning their doctors more. They’re supposed to be experts, but people are getting huge doses of powerful medications. More doctors need to be charged with negligence. I have yet to see a doctor in my community be disciplined. You have to do something hugely wrong, something so bad that the authorities can’t turn a blind eye. Otherwise, it’s like ignorance is bliss.
At the first prescription drug awareness hour I held, one of my speakers was a woman who robbed a pharmacy because she was hooked on pills, and she was a student at the community college and had four kids. She was a functioning addict, but she really wasn’t well. When did we lose her? How did she go from driving a minivan and being a soccer mom to robbing a pharmacy with a knife and a mask? How is her family doctor prescribing these massive amounts of pills? It’s so hard for people to believe a doctor would do something to hurt somebody. We put way too much trust in doctors; they are human and make mistakes.
W: Do you have any advice for family members who are dealing with prescription drug addiction?
AG: Definitely reach out; you’re not alone. Big Pharma and the government wants you to be quiet so they won’t have to deal with the problem. You don’t have to go on TV, but write a letter to someone; take some sort of action. I wish I had said something earlier.
A month after Josh’s death, my other brother went to detox and now has been clean for five months. Looking back on my brother’s addiction, I would have tried to be less of an enabler. I was always giving him a ride or lending him money; I didn’t know the severity of what I was helping him to do. I wish we would have informed ourselves more about the dangers of pills. I didn’t even know you weren’t supposed to drink on opiates until after Josh died, and I bet Josh didn’t know that either. It just goes to show you that life can change so quickly.
Every life is as equal as the next. Everyone deserves to live just as much as the next person. The attitude that junkies don’t want help is setting them up for failure. People need to have an open mind and compassion in their hearts for addicts. I think about what horrible things I want to do to the dealer who sold to Josh. But he’s someone’s brother just like mine; his sister is probably going through hell. I can only hope he sees the light before he hurts someone else or himself. When someone is in active addiction, there’s no closure until they get better or die.
Brad DeHaven of Granite Bay, Calif. considered himself a typical suburban father: he coached his two boys’ soccer, baseball and football teams, helped with their homework, and did everything he could to instill a good work ethic and be a positive influence in their lives. But all that came crashing down when his older son, Brandon, became addicted to OxyContin in high school. DeHaven’s first book, “Defining Moments: A Suburban Father’s Journey Into His Son’s Oxy Addiction,” tells of the great lengths DeHaven went to in an attempt to help his son – including going undercover in a dangerous drug bust – and of how Brandon’s addiction affected the whole family. Oxy Watchdog spoke to DeHaven about how OxyContin led his family down an unimaginable path, and the book that lays it all bare.
Watchdog: Why did you decide to write a book and go public with your story?
Brad DeHaven: It started out as cathartic writing. I was doing a lot of traveling and had a lot of downtime in airports. It felt like when you’re writing a letter to someone but not really intending to send it out; I was just getting it off my chest. Before I knew it I had 10,000 words, then 20,000, then 30,000. It was like I kept scratching off these scabs I didn’t know were there, and the more I reached inward, the more I discovered about myself and learned what defined me as a person and a father.
W: You had witnessed addiction in your life, notably through your brother Thomas, before your son became an addict. Why do you think addiction happens to some and not to others – i.e., why Brandon, and not your other son, Bryce?
BD: Addiction is an illness, not a voluntary action. No addict picks up a pill thinking they want to die at 22. My father-in-law smoked his whole life and now he has an illness, lung cancer, and he’ll die because he couldn’t stop. The same goes for obesity, no one sets out wanting to be 500 pounds and ending up dying of diabetes. So many people have attached this stigma to addiction. For Brandon, it started when he was prescribed Vicodin for a broken arm as a teenager, and it flared up that addictive trait, leading him to a $1,000-a-day Oxy habit.
W: You describe your family as leading a very typical suburban life. Do you consider OxyContin a suburban problem, and do you think people are in denial about how pervasive it is?
BD: [Prescription drug addiction] is a lot more pervasive in suburbia than you think. In fact, the working title of my book was “Beyond the Picket Fence.” I’m getting calls from people all over the U.S. who’ve had the same experience as my family. It’s their dirty little secret, but once they come forward with it, they’re dying to know they’re not alone. We act like it’s not there; we’re afraid to tell anyone. And then all of a sudden it leads to heroin, which is where Brandon went when he relapsed, just as we were getting ready to go to print.
Part of the problem with prescription drugs is that in higher income neighborhoods, pills are just sitting around because they’re given at will to anyone who wants them. But these legal drugs are heroin; opiates are heroin. I don’t care what you’ve been through as a parent, I was ill-prepared to handle prescription drug abuse. I didn’t know the signs of it, how serious it was, or how to treat it. I knew that when I was a kid, I was sitting at the dinner table giggling because I was stoned. Now our kids are sitting next to us with a belly full of Vicodin or an armful of Oxy. The medicine cabinet is a place that we as kids would never have thought to look for drugs.
W: Did you struggle with feelings of failure as a parent because one of your sons became a drug addict?
BD: Absolutely. I always thank my younger son for helping me realize I wasn’t a complete failure as a father. If I had one son, either one or the other, I would have thought I was the worst or the best father in the world. But in truth I was neither; I was just a father. I got two different results. At some point, Brandon went down this road and couldn’t turn back, no matter what it did to his family.
W: You took some pretty extreme measures to help your son. What were you thinking?
BD: Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but at the time, it was like jumping in front of a bus for someone. You don’t really think about it when you’re doing it. I had a lot of time to think in the parking lot [waiting for the drug bust to go down], and that’s when my life flashed before my eyes. You don’t think of the jagged cliffs when you dive off into the water. I grew up rough and tough, but I was 50 years old, and when you find out some guy who has thumped a few people is coming to your car to buy drugs, you think of your past, your future, all the what-ifs of your family relationships.
W: What was Brandon’s reaction to the book?
BD: At first, he wanted it all behind him. He didn’t want to be known as Brandon the Drug Addict. But after he read the book, he realized it wasn’t just about him; it’s about addiction and what happens to families because of addiction.
W: The video of your son withdrawing from OxyContin is heart-wrenching. What was going through your mind as you were filming it?
BD: It was like watching a sick animal. I have had to play that video for high school audiences, and for a lot of people, it’s like they’re looking at a car wreck. I still can’t look at it. I tear up thinking about it right now. It was a horrible moment; I filmed it in an ignorant attempt to document something that I thought would be a deterrent for him later. It’s not that simple, but to me, it was. But it’s been pretty powerful in helping people realize that kicking pills is no joke. I call it the end of the rainbow. Sure, drugs will make you feel great all night, you’ll party like a rock star, but let me show you what your body does when you don’t have any more pills to feed it.
W: Brandon relapsed on black tar heroin after the book was published. How is he doing now?
BD: I was crushed when I found out he had relapsed; it was a very helpless feeling. But he’s much better now. But it’s one day at a time. I consider him to be in remission. He looks fantastic, he’s 6’2” and has gone from 130 pounds to 185 pounds, but I know addiction is still lurking. He’s 26 and I still drug test him, but now he doesn’t have a thousand excuses. He knows the program, and he’s proud to pee clean.
Brandon tells me being active keeps him sober. We call him Chippendale now; he looks like a model. It’s a remarkable transformation, because before he looked like a skeleton. His hip bones protruded, his knees were like softballs on top of pencils, every rib and backbone showed, his shoulders were sunken. Now he’s the total opposite.
W: How has addiction changed your attitude as a parent?
DH: It’s such a pleasure to walk into a room and hear Brandon talking to his friends about being sober and never wanting to go back to the life of using. And it’s good to see him checking himself out in the mirror, to see that he loves himself. But I’ve lowered the bar for my expectations of him. I’m just happy that he’s alive. He works as a waiter, and sometimes I’ll go and have a drink and an appetizer just to watch him be back. When you have a child who’s an addict, you lower the bar you set a long time ago that your child will become a doctor or the president of the United States. So when you’ve lowered your expectations down to, “I just want him to be alive for tomorrow,” that’s a pretty drastic movement. All of those old dreams are gone, you just want to know your child will put one foot in front of the other.
Brandon still has a long way to go to rebuild his life, but he grows up more every day. Because of his addiction, we never really knew who he was. I felt like I was meeting him for the first time when he came out of rehab. He’d been addicted for so long, we thought that’s who he was, and it isn’t.
W: What were some of the effects of Brandon’s addiction on his sibling Bryce? You describe a very touching moment near the end of the book in which the two brothers seem to reconcile all the hurt Brandon’s addiction has caused. That must have felt very redemptive.
BD: It was incredible to watch as a parent. One of the hardest things about Brandon’s addiction was that I felt like history was repeating itself, and I had gone into fatherhood thinking no way would this happen on my watch. I was going to be the father I never had to my boys. Brandon’s addiction forced Bryce to not let him in as much, he built a wall. Their relationship was toast, and rightfully so, because Bryce didn’t want to be hurt again. So when they held each other it was amazing. At the same time, when Brandon later relapsed, the things that spewed out of Bryce’s mouth were absolute hatred. Now, Brandon’s been clean again for a year, and their relationship is good. You can see that relationship rebuilding, and you can only pray that Brandon won’t give Bryce another reason to step back.
W: What are your thoughts on the role of the pharmaceutical industry and the rising rates of prescription drug addiction?
BD: The makers of OxyContin have to know that well over 50 percent of their drug is hitting the streets. The pill is selling great, and they want to act like everything’s fine. Purdue’s pamphlet on OxyContin is four pages long and actually says that the proper way to dispose of unused Oxy is to flush it down the toilet. If they write it down that way, they don’t have to come up with a plan to recapture the unused drugs. They’ve literally flushed their problem down the toilet. It’s really comical that they would have the guts to do this. They’ll just change the formula, introduce a drug with a different name, and continue making money.
W: What advice do you have for parents whose children are currently struggling with OxyContin addiction?
BD: From the time our kids are born and we slap them on the butt and cut the umbilical cord, we think what we’re doing is parenting. So it’s very difficult to convince parents that they are enabling their children when they’re paying the rent or buying the groceries for their addicted children. They see it as helping. Enabling is a big part of this, and I can throw no stones. What I was doing in that parking lot [during the drug bust] was enabling my son to do what he wanted to do, because the next morning, I found out he had used Oxy in my absence. I just couldn’t believe it, but that’s how ignorant I was.
Once you can admit that addiction is an illness, then you need to get professional help for your child. If your child had a baseball-sized tumor on his neck, would you lock him in the bedroom to fix it? That’s exactly what I tried to do, and it was stupid to try to fix it on my own. You are ill-prepared for Oxy addiction, because it’s heroin.
With rehab, it can be a turnoff for parents because when you call, it kind of feels like you’re buying a used car. “Give us 20 grand, and we’ll pick up your kid tomorrow.” And no addict ever really wants to go to rehab, so you have to get someone who is bullshit proof. The hardest kid to coach is your own, and the same goes for drugs. They know all your buttons, they know how to work you, how to pit mom against dad, they know every angle. So you have to get them in an environment with bullshi proof people. Give your addict to these professionals and allow them to do what they do.
But don’t stop reaching for your child. Your child has the hard shell of a drug addict around him, and that shell will bite you and deceive you. All you can do is hope that they will start loving themselves, start checking themselves out in the mirror.
DeHaven is currently working on a follow-up book to “Defining Moments.” Visit his website here.
Brett was never a good student. But, he was a great friend. Starting in middle school, he started smoking pot. According to him, over the next few years, came ecstasy, bars (Xanax), meth, and heroin. He just liked to get high.
His first overdose was at our home. We found him in the morning. The anxiety was something I had never experienced and know that I never wanted to again. When the doctor at the ER said it was a heroin overdose, we all just froze. That brought 5 days in the hospital and an understanding of how this drug destroys the body.
Clean for about 6 months, on Sept. 30th, we got a call from a family where he had spent the night. “Brett has overdosed, and it does not look good.” Off to Baylor Hospital with that horrid gut wrenching pain. This time there was quite a bit of blood, it was just really different than what we experienced the first time. The doctor put him on a ventilator, stabilized him and off to ICU we went. We had already learned how to monitor the machines and pray for his life. So that is what we did. That is all we could do.
After 5 days, they got him off the vent, and he was doing better. A few days later we went straight from Baylor to rehab. He finally got bounced from there due to insurance, and home Thanksgiving Eve. Gosh it was nice. Great attitude, looked healthy, and actually enjoyed the family. Luckily my parents were with us and had the opportunity to enjoy their grandchild.
He was doing well. Got a job he liked and worked at sobriety. The addiction was really tough. We knew that, and knew if the monkey got strong, Brett would lose.
Spring break and our son Kyle came home for a few days, so we planned a quick family getaway to San Antonio. Thursday night, Brett came home from work and said he was going to go out for a few hours, but would be home. He promised he would. We told him we were leaving at 9:00 am, whether he was here or not.
At 11:00, we left without him. At 1:00pm he called and after understanding that we were NOT going to turn around and get him, he said that’s OK, he would just hang with some friends at home. The three of us had a great evening on the river. We talked to Brett about 8:00 pm. “Don’t mess up the house and just kick back.” Back to the hotel and up early to go to the art museum.
Saturday, Kyle was in the shower getting ready, we were already dressed and my phone rang and it was the hospital. The news we dreaded so much had arrived. “We did all we could. I am really sorry.”
Telling Kyle was the one of hardest things we had to do. We immediately left San Antonio and made the 5-hour, quiet drive home. All lost in our own thoughts. We could not talk. Our safety was at hand. Once we were close to home, all of us became anxious. When we got home, we immediately began to “fall apart.” Friends came with support, food, love. But it did not matter. We were now three.
I remember those few days after. Mostly trying to grasp what our life had now turned into, and making sure that all the details were perfect. After all, it was for Brett.
We miss our son immensely, but know that he is no longer an addict that has to fight every single day of his life. His purpose on earth was to be a friend. We know that now. His purpose now, is to help those friends shed their monkeys. As a parent, we will continue to help him.
From this experience we started a non-profit organization called WTF – Winning The Fight! Our goal is to educate parents and youth about drugs and the addiction that they create.
“OxyContin In Your Words” stories are unedited accounts of OxyContin and heroin addiction. Help us break through the shame of addiction and share your own story. Confidentiality, if requested, is assured.
I don’t do it as often as before you see
But last night I found myself crying as hard as can be.
My heart has been shattered
Because you are what mattered
To pick up the pieces, I try
But so often I can’t, so I cry.
See, I should have been able to save you
After all, you were my son!
But something else got ahold of you too
We all fought it, even you.
And in the end, the little pill that killed my son, won.
As much as I wanted and you did too,
That something took your life
And tore my heart like a knife in two.
I’ve tried to fix my broken heart,
But some days it just comes unglued.
What am I supposed to do
Since my life had been torn apart from losing you?
I wipe my eyes and put on a smile
I pick up the phone and go to dial
I cannot call you on the phone
There is no more dial tone.
So I shout out loud: I WANT MY SON BACK!
GIVE HIM TO ME!
But silence is all that I hear,
An answer is what I lack.
As I sleep that night
You come to me in a bright light
“Mom, you have to get up,
You have to move on.”
“Wait,” I say, “I need my baby.”
“No Mom, he’s gone.”
“But I want you with me, don’t you see?”
“It can no longer be. I am now free,
No more fighting,
No more pain,
No more sorrow,
For now I am at peace.”
You need to know that, Mom.
It’s okay to cry,
But now you have to go on.
There is much left to do in your life
You are not through.
Mom, I’m so proud of you.
You are a Survivor! Tell your story
To all who will listen!
You will save lives,
God gives his permission.
You say you have no more fight left,
But Mom, on this I will bet:
You are stronger than anyone I know
And “FIGHT” is the power God gave to you!
So Mom, go out and live!
Fight for those who need you!
With me, your fight is through
But I will always be beside you,
~ Submitted by Melissa Pavel Traylor
“OxyContin In Your Words” stories are unedited accounts of OxyContin and heroin addiction. Help us break through the shame of addiction and share your own story. Confidentiality, if requested, is assured.
Welcome to Florida, plenty to see
theme parks and beaches, pretty palm trees
we have some secrets we don’t advertise,
our dirty laundry, our dirty lies
No it’s not bed bugs, no it’s far worse
our epidemics are some doctors curse
they open pill mills , they destroy lives
some locals daughters will never be wives
They run cash businesses
they rob our state
once you meet them
it will be unknown fate
Little blue pills just as blue as our sky
take one of them and you to may die.
pick up a paper, you’re bound to see
one of our children dead from an OD
We don’t want you to know about this fleet
your family could go home not as complete.
This is my warning about this drug
everyone please give your child a hug
our local government needs to get tough
frankly I’m tired of writing this stuff.
~ Submitted by Patricia Dye Masi
“OxyContin In Your Words” stories are unedited accounts of OxyContin and heroin addiction. Help us break through the shame of addiction and share your own story. Confidentiality, if requested, is assured.
I grew up in a small city, on a one-way street, with the same families who had lived on that block since my father moved into that house when he was ten years old. A big, green house with an American flag on the front porch, and a front yard with green grass, flowers, a bird bath, and a maple tree.
When I was little, I loved that house. I loved the history of it. The idea that my family had lived there since my great-great grandparents bought it. I loved the park that’s across the street and the bike path, or the “tracks” as we called it, that runs behind that park. I loved the smell of donuts in the morning from the donut factory that sits on the “tracks.” I loved my backyard, the shed that’s there that matches the green on my house and the rock box that my father built behind it. I loved the yellow roses that grew along the lattice next to my back door. I loved the smell of freshly cut grass in my backyard on Saturday mornings. I was only a child; this was what I saw.
From the outside looking in, people seemed to assume us to be the cookie cutter White, American, Catholic family. There are four of us, Megan, Alex, Diana, and me, Emily, in that order. Our parents, Mike and Maureen, have been married for thirty years and have been ‘together’ for even longer.
My dad has always worked his hardest to support us the best he could, and my mother was a stay at home mom for most of our lives. We went to church every Sunday, then Sunday school afterwards, until each of us made our confirmation. My dad coached each of our basketball teams at least once and my mom was at every single game. Every night we sat at the dinner table as a family, no excuses. And every night on our plate was always a home cooked meal and everyone drank a glass of milk with dinner. My dad ran for Alderman once, and my oldest sister was on School Committee at age twenty. My mom never missed a single PTA meeting from kindergarten up to senior year of high school, for all four of us. Either mom or dad was at every single game, graduation, talent show, school play, dance recital, prom, banquet, or awards night.
Sounds pretty cookie cutter, huh? I know. And as I look back on it, it was. Or at least it seemed like that when I hadn’t yet learned what the world was made of.
That perfectly cut cookie seemed to last most of my life. I thought it would always be like that, and even if we weren’t the perfect family, people viewed us as at least a good family, a strong family. We had a reputation, whether we agreed with it or not.
A spoon, a syringe, and a five dollar bag of heroin changed that forever.
My brother Alex was always quiet, not so much when he was with friends, but around the family he pretty much kept to himself. Not like you can blame him. He had three sisters and was one of the middle children.
When we were younger he and I got along a lot better. Even though he did cry the entire morning after I was born because I was not a boy, I think he was happy that I became such a little tom boy and loved spending time doing “guy things” with him and my father. In kindergarten and first grade I actually wanted to be a boy so badly so that I could be more like Alex. I even tried to pee standing up once, which was what probably made me realize that no matter what I did, I was always going to be a girl, whether I had liked it or not.
I guess after first grade, when I started picking dolls over dirt, the relationship between my brother and I was never really the same again. I hadn’t given up everything I learned with Dad and Alex, like playing basketball and going fishing, I just didn’t spend as much time with them anymore. I started dance lessons, grew my hair out long and pretty, learned how to paint my nails and started to wear my mom’s heels around the house. We just had nothing in common anymore; we went our separate ways, which I guess was bound to happen eventually, and never really built our relationship up again.
Then when Alex hit puberty, he really separated himself from the family. He spent most of his time with his two best friends, Peter and Stanley, who became very much a part of our family or playing basketball. He was never really too concerned about his school work. He always just slid by. He wasn’t as worried about his grades as us girls were. After some ups and downs throughout high school, with both his school work and basketball, he ended up graduating on time in 2004.
After high school, Alex didn’t really do much. He bounced around from part time job to part time job, and spent a ton of time unemployed, still living with my parents. He pretty much kept to himself. He slept during the day, was up or out all night, came in as he pleased, went as he pleased, no questions asked.
He would walk through the door, grey face, sunken in, glossy eyes, dosing off one minute and ecstatic the next, yelling, “Hey Ma, Hey Pop! What’s up Sis?!” And the minute he opened his mouth, you could tell, he was high.
But at least he was nice when he was high. He treated me like he always should have, like a big brother. He acted more like he used to, almost like we just skipped the last thirteen years and we were little kids shooting hoops down the park again. He asked me about school, my friends, boys, and always told me that he loved me. And I hated it. Because it wasn’t him, it was the heroin. Heroin became my big brother.
Alex began using OxyContin sometime between 2003 and 2005, and heroin sometime in 2006, or at least that’s what we’ve heard. My family had not even the slightest idea of his abuse until the winter of 2007. Between that winter and the spring of 2008, my brother overdosed on heroin three times, went into detox five times, four different rehabs, and two halfway houses.
Alex’s addiction made for a world of change in my house. Everyone was always tense, angry, confused, or upset. The dinner table was quiet on most nights now. Except for when Alex was sitting at it, high of course. Other than that, no one really had much to say to one another. We weren’t all on the same terms with each other about Alex and his abuse, especially my parents and me. We fought about it constantly. Questioning is he using or not this week? Or did he go to his meeting? Was he lying about where he went all night? Or did he take that new DVD I just bought?
My brother’s problem changed my last two years of high school drastically. A time that most teenagers spend making great memories that last the rest of their lives. For me, those last two years were something like a horror film. Every day after school I never knew what I could be walking into when I got home. He and a group of junkies could be lingering on my front porch, or even worse in my living room. He could be high and I’d have to worry about being home alone with him. Or my front door could be wide open because he broke in when he was supposed to be at rehab. Every time I would hear him lock the bathroom door or run up the stairs to his room my heart would stop, waiting to see if he would come out.
Alex and I didn’t talk when he was sober, and when he was high all we did was fight, to unimaginable extents. He stole from me repetitively, so much that I refused to live in my own house without a lock on my bedroom door.
What he did to me, to my parents and to my family as a whole, has changed the way I will look at my brother forever. Now when I see him, I don’t see a big brother or the star of the basketball team. I don’t remember the boy that was with me the first time I scored a basket down the park or who was there when I caught my first fish. I see a junkie.
I don’t love that house as much anymore. It’s not filled with all good memories like it used to be. It’s filled with memories of my brother lying on a bathroom floor, or his bedroom floor, half dead. A bathroom sink filled with water, with a floating spoon and needle. A belt tied so tightly around an arm it had turned completely blue. No matter how hard I try to rid my mind of them these images will be burned into my memory forever. That park, the ‘tracks’, my shed and my rock box, are now all places where my brother once shot heroin. How could I look at those places the same way I did when I was a little girl, when the world was so much nicer? I would never be able to.
The same as the way people will never look at my family the same. Not like we ever agreed with our image, or cared much about it, it’s just a dramatic change in who we were before my brother’s addiction. Before, we were for the most part a happy, well put together family. Now, we’re a family who together has to battle heroin addiction. It is not something that goes away overnight, or that someone else can change for the addict. You can’t just tell yourself that you need to be or should be clean and it’ll happen. It’s a grueling, stressful, and intense process of recovery.
Together we have to try our hardest to forgive and forget what has happened and what has been done and to help my brother move forward in his life with something positive. It is now our job, whether we want it to be or not, to be there to support him and help him through the steps of recovery. No matter how hard it may be for us to see the lighter side of things, without us, he will never successfully recover. And no matter if it’s been 2 weeks, 3 months, or 5 years, that person will always be an addict in recovery.
We will always be addicts in recovery.
~ Submitted by Emily
The prescription pill abuse here in Florida is out of control. It sickens me to think I have not one but two children addicted to these pills, I blame them, but I also blame the doctors providing them. Yesterday was my daughter’s 27th birthday, she spent it in jail where she has been for 2 weeks now, her charges are drug related, she ran out of her own pills and went to purchase some and was arrested.
July 20, 2011 will also now be remembered as a sad day…My son called me at 5pm he was frantic crying, I could barely make out what he was saying to me, I heard the word dead several times, it was my son’s best friend. A young man of only 30, a young man I had known since he was 11, DEAD OF A DRUG OVERDOSE…
My husband and I drove to the beach to his friend’s parents’ house, his parents had left for vacation the day before. When we arrived my son was being comforted by law enforcement and paramedics, The officer praised my son for not leaving after he discovered his body, he also told him not to blame himself. The paramedic pulled me aside, he told me to watch my son carefully tonight, he said he has been to many scenes like this one, and on to many occasions, they repeat themselves often the same night. I paid attention to his words and brought my son home.
My son talked with me in great detail about this day, I listened and cried with him…I’m going to share what he told me with you in my son’s own words:
“I talked to Dustin at 12:30, I was going to run some errands, walk my dog, and then spend the week at his parents’ house with him while we both attempted to get off these pills. I called him around 2:30pm, no answer, I called again and again several more times still he didn’t answer….
Something in my heart told me something was wrong, so I drove to his parents’ house, knocked on the door, no answer, the door was unlocked and I went in…. I yelled out his name, nothing, not a sound…. I walked into his room he was kind of next to his bed and a desk on the floor in a sitting position. His legs were apart and his upper body was forward with his head on the floor, I pulled him out and laid him down. A needle was lying next to him, I think it fell out of his arm when I moved him. His face was swollen and purple, his eyes, Mom…were wide open looking at me, I dialed 911, I was frantic, I begged for them to help me save my best friend. Is he breathing, put your ear next to his mouth, no he’s not….felt his neck for a pulse, no, no pulse….start chest compressions, how do I do that? They told me 1,2,3,4, 1,2,3,4….All I could see was foam in his nose, with each compression a gurgling sound, I though he was coming back….I saw those eyes again, Mom, like he was saying, help me man!!! Help me. The paramedics finally came followed by a sheriff. They pulled me off him, I heard a lady say let’s get him hooked up….then another voice said it’s too late, he’s gone….”
My son can’t get that image out of his head now, he said every time I close my eyes Mom I see him…I can only try to imagine what he must be going through…I ask how many more deaths is it going to take??
In my opinion these types of drugs should only be given to terminally ill people. OxyContins KILL… They are the most addictive drug next to heroin. Our doctors have become the drug dealers in our state, they open pill mills and do cash-only business, they see in excess of a 100 people a day…they actually are lined up outside these clinics….waiting for 180-240 of roxy’s plus OxyContins plus Xanax and whatever other drugs you may ask for….We have addicts robbing banks for one dollar because as one of those paramedics told me yesterday, “Hollywood has glamorized addition with reality shows and because of that it’s out of reach for the people who need it most.” So rather than die they choose to go to jail for help. This just creates a new problem for the system, too many crimes, not enough room. Early releases and either found dead or in trouble again…I’m not sure if my son’s experience yesterday will be positive or result in even more abuse. Only God knows the answer to that. Drug addiction is hard on all parties involved. It doesn’t care if you are rich or poor tall or short or old or young. But one thing I can say is DRUG ADDICTION DOESN’T CHOOSE YOU, YOU CHOOSE IT!!!! I have not one but 2 children who are addicts. Yesterday was my daughter’s 27th birthday, she spent it in a jail cell, her charges are drug related, see she didn’t have the money to continue seeing doctors so she chose to buy pills from so-called friends. Someone in that house set her up, thank you for that…she is ALIVE AT LEAST FOR NOW.
I write this because if I can make an impact on just one person who reads this, and they forward it to someone else and someone else, and it stops just one child or adult from ever taking even one of these pills and ending their life, then I know I have at least done something and possibly saved a life. Being silent about this epidemic is only going to cause more loss of life. Us mothers should ban together like the M.A.D.D. MOMS DID AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT BEFORE IT IS ONE OF OUR OWN WHOSE FUNERAL WE MUST PLAN. I have no shame, this is my reality I deal with daily, I will keep my faith and continue praying to God daily…I must go now my son needs me….
~ Submitted by Patricia Dye Masi, Florida
Matt Ganem is no stranger to opiate addiction. By the time he was 21, an addiction to heroin that started with OxyContin had all but destroyed his life. Miraculously, Ganem made it out alive, and at 26, he has now been clean for more than five years. Ganem has taken a creative approach to the horrors of opiate addiction through his hard-hitting poetry and writing, which can be viewed on YouTube and Facebook. His first book of poetry, “Carried By Wings Of Protection,” is due out this fall. Watchdog asked Ganem to fill in fans about his personal story, and share how Oxy and heroin changed his life forever.
Watchdog: How did opiate addiction happen to you?
Matt Ganem: I started taking Percocets in high school after I hurt my arm playing baseball. One day someone offered me something stronger. It was an OxyContin pill. He split it with me and we crushed it up and snorted it, and it was an unbelievable feeling to say the least. The ball started rolling right there.
W: How common was OxyContin abuse?
MG: OxyContin was everywhere; everyone I knew did it. When all your friends are doing it, you feel like it’s socially acceptable. Nobody knew that splitting an 80-mg OxyContin would lead you to shooting up dope, or dying, or committing suicide.
W: How quickly did your Oxy addiction progress?
MG: My best friend committed suicide and I took him down from where he was hanging from the shower pole. When you see something like that, it haunts you. He was already cold when I took him down. From that point on, I didn’t want to live anymore. I wanted to kill myself, but I didn’t have the balls to do it. So I started doing an insane amount of OxyContin. Soon I was holding up corner stores to get ten 80s a day. I had to do it, or I’d be curled up in a ball. Once you can’t afford the Oxys, it’s $40 for a bag of heroin for the same high, versus $250 for the pills. At first, people would offer me dope, and I thought I was too good for it. But I progressively went from snorting Oxys to smoking and shooting them, and then from sniffing dope to shooting it, smoking crack, mixing dope and crack. I was asking for death, but it never came for me.
W: What were the Oxy withdrawals like? Is it worse than heroin?
MG: Coming down off Oxy is way worse than heroin. It’s the worst feeling in the entire world. Your bones ache, you can’t hold your bowels, your skin is cold, your mind races, you’re anxious, you want to die. You can’t physically move for 5-7 days, you’re curled up like a little baby sucking its thumb. I’d rather break my arm than go through Oxy withdrawals. With dope, it’s also physically painful but only for 1-3 days, then it’s more mental. Oxy seeps into your bones.
W: When did everything change for you?
MG: I had lost my relationship with my family, I had no friends, I was just getting high by myself. One day I was sitting in my friend’s mother’s house, I was dope sick, and she was shooting up in front of me and she told me I had a problem. I looked at her, she had just finished a five-year prison sentence, and I couldn’t believe she said that to me. I went over to the mirror and I saw a straight skeleton. Death was in my eyes. I could not tell you who it was in the reflection. I got myself to a detox, and after that I went to a halfway house and sat there for 8 hours to prove to the director how bad I wanted to get clean. I knew if it didn’t work, I’d end up in jail or dead. It was predetermined that I was going to get high. Finally, the director brought over a pillow and a blanket.
When you’re an addict, there’s nothing that will stop you. It’s a sad thing to say, but it’s reality. It’s a nice thought to have that your child or your family will stop you, but plenty of people will leave their children and families to get high. The only thing that can stop an addict from getting high is the addict themselves.
W: Why do you think you made it out of opiate addiction, while so many others do not?
MG: If I could tell you, I would tell everyone I know. I don’t know what worked for me. It’s something that just clicks. During my drug addiction I was stabbed, I was almost murdered for selling drugs, I shared needles. I’m one of the luckiest people alive, for all my drug use, I’m healthy. I was at an open mic a few weeks ago and a 30-year-old guy came up to me, he was a recovering Oxy addict who stopped when he was 23. He has full-blown AIDS. It’s stuff like that that makes you think about what a different situation you could be in. You play Russian roulette with your life when you’re an addict because you want to get high above all else. You’re in a relationship with dope. Now I’m 26, and the worst thing I can say is that my sports skills have deteriorated. I can say that today’s the day I can choose whether I get high. I’m very lucky.
W: In “Don’t Bring Me Back To That”, you recreate the temptations you faced when you first got clean and how hard it is to escape the grip of addiction. Do you still struggle with the temptation to get high?
MG: If I see a needle getting injected into somebody, I flash back to the process of getting high, but I don’t feel the actual urge to get high anymore. In the beginning, we had weekends off in the halfway house, and I’d be thinking the whole time about what my friends were doing, whether they were getting high. I learned that even if a bad thought comes over my head, I can write it out. I was honest and spoke out loud to friends, “I want to get high right now.” But then I would start writing and see where it led. That’s the greatest thing about writing, there’s no boundaries, you have the freedom to release whatever emotion you have.
W: Do you feel that your writing has a redemption quality for you?
MG: If you go back 7 years, I was a horrible person. I’ve done my share of wrong. I held up stores. You don’t realize the effect of a masked bandit on someone who’s just there getting orange juice for her husband, she’s scarred for life. I affected completely innocent people. And not that I’ll ever make that up, but to have people come up to me and say they identify with my stuff, it’s the most unbelievable feeling. It’s a long way from the places I’ve been to have both friends and strangers support me.
W: What would you say to the kid who’s about to pick up an Oxy at a party?
MG: I would try to show him my life story. You’re going to end up dead, whether by Oxy or by heroin.
Watch Matt’s latest video, “Fading Faces,” about lives lost due to drug addiction.
Dedication by Matt Ganem: Rest in peace Danny Nunes, James Slattery, Stephen Pacheco and Michael Sparks. I’ll see you guys on the other side of eternity.
I’d like to share my son Jeremy’s story in the hopes that maybe his story will help someone else who is dealing with an addiction to either Oxy or anything else or if you have lost someone from OxyContin.
Jeremy entered the drug scene pretty much the usual way most kids do. He started drinking alcohol on the weekends at friend’s houses when he was around 15 or 16 years old. It wasn’t causing any noticeable problems with him or his school and grades. We didn’t even know about it at the time. Then when he was around 16 years old, he started smoking pot while drinking. When he was first caught with weed on him, as parents, we did the usual things parents do when they find out their kid is smoking pot. We talked about the dangers of it and how it is the “gateway” to other drugs. We grounded him and took away his car. (Looking back I laugh at that. Like that was going to work if a kid wants to do something.) Jeremy made all the good sounding promises to us about never doing it again.
However, during his 17th year his moods, behavior, attitude, cleanliness, all began to change. His grades were still As, but I knew something worse was going on – I just didn’t know what. So I drug tested him one weekend. He tested positive for not only for marijuana, but for cocaine and ecstasy! I was floored!!! I just couldn’t believe it! MY SON! The handsome, intelligent, talented, charming son of MINE was doing more than weed! Of course, he said it was just that weekend only that he did coke. Yeah, the very same weekend I randomly tested him for the first time! At the time I ignorantly believed him. But still, I got him into “counseling.” Our insurance (United Behavioral Health) had certain steps to follow each calendar year to follow regarding help with drug abuse. The first step was outpatient counseling with a therapist. Then if that didn’t work, then it could progress to “intensive” outpatient therapy at a clinic and if that didn’t work, then he MIGHT be a candidate for 30 days of inpatient rehab! Mind you, all in one calendar year! So if it starts in October, and by January you need inpatient care, forget it! It has to start all over again!!! Anyway, the first counselor said, just let him experiment, it was only that one time! Can you imagine! I said how do you know?! You believe him??? You don’t live with him! Anyway, eventually Jeremy quit him and he was progressing quickly down the path to destruction. So we got him into intensive outpatient therapy where later we learned that’s how he found out about doing prescription pills with the weed to get a better high. He got booted out of there. By October of that year, his senior year and a month before he turned 18, he was now a changed person. We didn’t know it at that time, but he had started snorting OxyContin. It was awful! No more the caring person. He lost both his full four-year scholarships to two different private universities. But we could do nothing, because he was an adult in the state’s eyes. By January of 2009 we “kidnapped” him and drove him to Texas where there was one bed left in a “free” rehab clinic. By the time we got there from Louisiana, the bed had been taken! Boy was he angry!
Then in February, he got arrested on Mardi Gras day for public drunkenness of all things! So I let him spend the night in “big boy” jail, as the guard called it when I went to pick him up the next day. Needless to say, he came home scared and without his shoes! But he continued doing Oxy (still unbeknownst to us) – three 80mgs crushed and snorted every two or three days, we later learned. His temper was getting worse to the point of getting physical with me, by pushing me hard when I wouldn’t give him the keys to his car. I told him then that if he came home that night loaded and got in my face again, I was gonna punch him in the jaw because no son of mine was gonna treat me that way! So that night, I was waiting up for him in the dark on the sofa, ready for him. He and his girlfriend came in about 1 am (he was sticking to his curfew, believe it or not!) but he got in my face and said, “haha I’m loaded, what you gonna do about it?!” Well, you’re supposed to follow through when you lay out a consequence, so I hauled off and punched him hard in the jaw! He stumbled backwards holding his jaw, yelling “Mom! I can’t believe you did that!” I said, well I told you I was going to if you got into my face again! Well between that, and his girlfriend threatening to leave him if he didn’t get help, he agreed that on the following Monday, he would go into detox and then rehab. Which he did do. He actually wanted to. He was ready to change his life. By this point, he had lost his friends, money, clothes, his car was a piece of junk, he sold pretty much everything valuable he had. He wanted his life back.
So in the next 80 days, he managed to detox, get a job and keep it, put money in the bank, graduate from high school, get into a community college, and the best of all, the REAL Jeremy that we all knew was shining through again!!! My boy was “coming home.” It was so awesome to see the changes in him. He was really following the steps he was learning. He even was turning his life to God in the end. Never was a parent prouder of her child than when he walked across that stage at graduation!! We never thought he would make it there!
Because he was doing so great while in rehab, following all the rules, changing his friends, staying clean, going to school, working, behaving himself at home, we got complacent very quickly. Here is where I always warn parents! You must not think everything is okay now that he is in rehab! As hard as it is, you still cannot trust them. They cannot trust themselves. They may sincerely want to stay clean, but the monster that had taken hold of them is STRONG!!! So here I must say as much as it hurts you and them, don’t be so quick to give back that trust for a long time. It’s painful not to do that because they might be doing so well, but it’s so easy for them to “slip” back again with Oxy. Especially after being clean for awhile, they begin to think they are invincible, that it won’t kill them. Oh, how wrong they are!
By May 13, 2009, Jeremy managed to graduate from high school with his class! Then exactly one week later, on May 20, 2009, Jeremy gave in to that “monster” OxyContin “one last time,” which really did prove to be his last time for anything. That previous night, May 19th, I was working nights and Jeremy called and said he would catch a ride home with the girl he worked with. I said okay, but call me when you get home. The last time I talked to Jeremy, was 10:35 pm, May 19th. I called all his friends, and they said they hadn’t heard from him, nor could they get in touch with him. The last anyone heard from him was at 12:45 a.m. As I continued working, I kept texting him with no response. By the time I was driving home at 3:15 am on May 20th, I told myself, “my baby is dead.” I cried all the way home. I could feel it. It’s like his spirit was talking to me. But I had no idea where he was. He wasn’t with his friends. They had no clue as to where he was. So I sat on the couch from 3:30 am to approximately 8 am, getting up every so often to look out of the door. The last time I got up to check the door at about 8 am, a detective from homicide was coming up. I asked, “is Jeremy dead?” And I just started crying. Before he could even tell from what, I said, “was it Oxy?” He confirmed it. It was the darkest day ever in my life. But I keep replaying that day over and over and over because I don’t want it to be true. For weeks I kept looking out that door for Jeremy, and there never was Jeremy again coming through that door. My world fell apart. My heart was shattered to pieces.
But in the midst of my intense grief, which still continues to this day, I set out that Jeremy’s death would not be in vain. I started the Jeremy Traylor Foundation, TXT2Tell, to raise awareness of the dangers of prescription drug abuse and to stop the secrecy among teens and parents. I want to teach others to speak up and speak out if they or someone they know has a problem with drugs or alcohol. Texting is a great means to do this. Sometimes it’s just easier to text someone than to actually talk to them about it. But the point is not to keep secrets and to get help before it is too late!
Jeremy and I talked about doing this before he died and he thought it was a great idea, he just didn’t want it named after him. Well I told him at his funeral, you didn’t keep your promise to me about not dying, so as a punishment, I AM going to name the foundation after you! And people everywhere will hear your story and you will save lives and you will have not died in vain!
So I say to parents, who have lost a child to prescription drug use, GRIEVE! Grieve for as long as you need to. And remember our children didn’t want to become drug addicts! No one does. But this little pill is stronger than anyone can imagine. It’s deadly just the way it is prescribed! You must repeat to yourselves over and over until you believe it, “I did everything I could.” You will beat yourself up and search where you went wrong and what you should have done, but keep telling yourself, you did the best you could do, until you finally believe it. Don’t be ashamed of how they died. Always be proud of your child, for they hated themselves enough for being addicted. Talk about your child. Talk about the dangers of prescription drugs. Love yourself. Give yourself time to “heal.” My 2-year mark is coming up on May 20th, 2011. This second year was much harder than the first, because the reality has now begun to sink in. And because people expect you to be “better.” The waves of this grief roller coaster are still intense, but they are getting less frequent. Don’t allow the insensitivity of others get to you. No one knows what to say. I know I sure didn’t before I lost my child. If you find people don’t call you anymore and you need to talk, call them. They will listen. Sometimes that’s all you want is someone to listen. But most of all, keep your child’s memories with you all the time. Cherish the time you had with them. Think of only the good times. And know that your child is truly at peace now.
I was asked once, what has the world lost now that Jeremy is gone? One of the best answers I’ve received to that question is from a good friend of mine. She said, “when Jeremy died the world lost the kind of son that millions of mothers dream about but only a few are lucky enough to have.” I truly have to agree with that. He was the son I prayed for for so long to have! The world lost in Jeremy, a truly talented, gifted, intelligent person. One who truly loved his friends and whom his friends loved right back. He was always there for his friends. A son who considered his father “his hero.” A little brother who always protected his big, “little” sister. An uncle who will never be known to his nephew. A son to his mother who adored him. He proudly proclaimed until the end that he was a “mama’s boy.” A son who made his mother SO VERY PROUD! A son whose death shattered his mother’s heart and changed the lives of so many people forever. A bit of light went out of the world when Jeremy died.
~ Submitted by Melissa Traylor, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
My husband had to have his leg amputated after our involvement in the Asian Tsunami 2004. After 6 months in hospital in Thailand he was flown back to hospital in England where the doctors put him oxycontin for the pain (had been on straight morphine in thailand). After he was discharged he was still quite weak and ill so I took charge of giving him his meds and obviously at this point, I had no concerns with giving him oxycontin, as prescribed, just wanted to make him feel better. But after awhile he started taking them when he needed them and needed more and more. Doctors put him on a higher dose and thats when I started noticing real differences in his behavior, appearence, etc. The prescription was supposed to last a month but was used up sooner and sooner. But the doctors just gave him more. I tried saying that he needed another way to deal with the pain…acupuncture, physio, massage, etc. but was met with angry harsh resistance. He’d ask if I loved him how could I let him be in pain…he only one leg, I had two, I had no idea what it was like. Riddled with guilt I backed down. It was at this time that he started hiding his pills as well…in random places all around house so I couldnt tell how many he was taking.
When our son was 8 months old, my husband went to pub one night…came home really drunk and high on pills. I could hear him stumbling around in kitchen and then fell over. I thought “serves him right, i’ll just let him sleep on kitchen floor tonight, maybe that will teach him” But a half later I went to check on him and saw that he was grey, foaming at the mouth, and wasnt breathing. I called 999 the had to pry his mouth open with wooden spoon to perform cpr on him because he had gone rigid. Paramedics had to shoot him in heart with adrenaline to get it pumping again. 2 days in hospital….when he finally came around he said he couldnt remember how many he had taken… 5 or 6 maybe…which means it was more. Said he would never take them again. Was absolutely shocked to discover that 2 weeks later when I picked up his repeat prescription (was on other meds as well, muscle relaxers, anti spasm stuff, etc) oxycontin was still on the list! Couldnt believe that they would prescribe it to him after he nearly died from an overdose. I destroyed the lot, but he just called up and got more.
Then when our son was 2, I was fluffing cushions on couch one day and a pill flew out onto the floor. I was livid. It could have so easily been our son who found it and no doubt would have eaten it thinking it was a sweetie and died. My husband said that it scared him, I watched as he flushed his remaining 12 pills down the toilet. I thought “finally, this is the end of it..he wouldnt ever put his son in jeopardy like that again” But I was wrong, he just found better hiding places, high up.
I kept telling him he needed to stop, that it was destroying our family. I couldnt stand to look at him when he was taking pills, pinpoint pupils, puffy eyes, pale face. I was embarrassed to go out in public with him because he looked like a junkie. I was always losing my temper because he was talking non-stop, repeatedly asking the same questions because he couldnt remember the answer I gave him 2 minutes ago, scratching like he was flea infested, having emotional little outbursts like a hormonal teenage girl. But he always denied he was taking pills. If I found any he would say “they were from ages ago.” I felt like I was going insane…I knew he was taking them but at the same time he was so earnest in his denials that I started believing that I was just being paranoid and crazy.
Finally 3 months ago when we moved house I went with him to the new doctor and demanded that he remove oxycontin from his prescription. Since his prescription had run out and we had moved away from the area where he had been buying the excess on the street, he had been off of them for 2 weeks. Unbelievably the doctor said he couldnt just stop taking them, that he would have to cut down first and prescribed him a lower dose.After that the doctor said then that he would take them off his repeat prescription but if he needed them to just come in to the office and he would write him a “one-off” prescription.I knew then that I was living in a nightmare….screaming for help but no sound was coming out, nobody was listening.
I think you can guess how this story finishes up. My husband lasted 2 months this time…actually thought it was all behind us now. I was devestated when he came home from work Monday night with that all too familiar look in his eye. I really dont know what to do anymore. I have been calling rehab centres all morning but they are all private, all way out of our price range. The NHS (national health service in uk) do not provide rehab or treatment to its citizens. Prisoners however do have that option. Again I’m dumbfounded that the government actually pays for someone to become an addict by providing free prescriptions, but they do not pay or even subsidize and kind of rehab or recovery. In fact when I googled “oxycontin addiction” I got more sites that advertised discount prices on oxycontin than ones that offered help.
Talking hasnt worked, tough love hasnt, threatening hasnt, love and resposibility for his two kids and another on the way, hasnt set him straight, I’m losing hope that anything can or will make him stop. I love him and he is a great father but just cant deal with this other idiotic man that he becomes when he’s taking pills. I’m convinced that he actually doesnt even know he’s taking them, he lies and denies it so much I think he actually believes that hes not taking them. I feel ready for the insane asylum.
~ Submitted by Anonymous, U.K.