Prescription drug abuse – Part I

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(Host) Rutland was one of the first communities in Vermont to publicly address its growing heroin problem. But many of the city’s heroin users began their addictions with prescription drugs. In fact, prescription drug abuse accounts for about a third of the abuse here and around the country.

VPR’s Nina Keck talked with recovering addicts in the first of two stories this week.

(Keck) “Mike” has been clean and sober for over 14 months. But if he wanted prescription narcotics, he says they’re easy to find in Rutland.

(Mike) “As easy as it is to turn your TV on. I could go to any doctor in the city and get them. I could go out of state and get them. I could get them on the computer. I could name 1,000 different places to get prescription drugs legally and not have to worry about it. If I were ever to go back out, I would have an endless supply of Oxycontin.”

(Keck) The 27-year-old says he first began using as a teenager.

(Mike) “I tried popping Tylox and Percocets, Vicodin. Then I was showed a new way by my father of how to do them by sniffing them.”

(Keck) At the Turning Point Club – a safe, sober meeting place in Rutland – there’s a pool table, community kitchen, and several lounges with books and televisions. On this particular night, a group of recovering addicts wait for a Narcotics Anonymous meeting to begin. “Kim,” who asked that her real name not be used, says finding drugs in Rutland is all about networking.

(Kim) “Everybody knew who had serious illnesses. And they did need some of their medication and they would sell the rest and that’s their livelihood, that’s what they live off of. I knew it was there, on what day the doctor would write their script. Everybody in town knows when people get their scripts. ‘Oh, so and so gets theirs on the 13th,’ so everybody calls that person on the 13th.”

(Keck) “Rick,” who asked that his real name not be used, waits with the others outside the meeting room. He says he was 15 or 16 when he first began raiding medicine cabinets.

(Rick) “So, I knew I could just go and rummage in the bathrooms of my friends and take their chloral hydrates and Valiums and uppers. My favorite then, because it was easiest to get, was codeine. I took about 30 of those a day – Tylenol 3. I also would have to have a barbiturate. So I also would take Tuanol or Secanols and I would take Valium. I had to have all three. So it was a rat race to chase it.”

(Kim) “Half of the battle is the chase.”

(Keck) Kim has been clean and sober for 60 days. She says when she was using, she could easily spend $3,000 a month on drugs. It was all consuming.

(Kim) “There’s nothing else that I would do in my day except for wake up, get on the phone and find out who had what. There wouldn’t be a shower, there wouldn’t be any laundry, there’d be no cooking – nothing. That’s all. I could do day after day until the point when I just got so physically sick. My body couldn’t handle it any more.”

(Sound of Narcotics Anonymous meeting) “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference. Keep coming back. It works if you work it, it sucks if you don’t!”

(Keck) Now that she’s back in recovery, Kim attends two Narcotics Anonymous meetings a day.

(Kim) “One of the things that got me to treatment was my daughter had basketball games at the high school this year and I couldn’t even go. I would go in for maybe five minutes and I knew I had stuff and I just could not sit there because I had to go get high. So I missed those moments and I know it hurts her. She knows I’m really trying.”

(Keck) The 38-year old mother of three says she’s been clean for up to two years five different times. Studies show that for every 50 people addicted to narcotics, only one will get clean. Kim says she’d like to be that person, but it’s hard.

(Kim) “There’s so many things I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t want to become a drug addict. But that’s what I am and there’s nothing I can do about that.”

(Keck) Kim, Mike and Rick say what’s sad is that every day, more people in Rutland are getting hooked.

(Mike) “It’s an epidemic. People you would never think of – lawyers, doctors – that’s just the way it is.”

(Rick) “Especially the teenage girls now, a teenage girl told me they love them because they’re cute and there’s no stigma doing them. ‘Oh the heroin addicts, well that’s sleazy, that’s ugly. Let’s go take Oxy’s and have a little teenage girl party and that’s nice.’ It’s all sanitized and it’s measured out by the company’s look! And they’re actually more dangerous than heroin because they’re so potent.”

(Mike) “I’ve lost four friends in the past year to pain patches, Oxycontin and methadone overdoses. One of my friends started out taking pills like I did and he ended up eating a patch and he overdosed and died. He was 32 years old, four kids and a wife.”

(Keck) Mike admits he’s lucky. He’s alive, he says with a sad smile. But he says his addiction cost him dearly.

(Mike) “It cost me my freedom. Jail time. It cost me friendships. It cost me trust with my family and respect with my family. I lost my self worth – just everything that comes with drugs. You lose hope, you lose everything.”

(Keck) Mike sits quietly for a moment. Then he cracks a genuine smile. If you really want help, he says, it’s there.

(Mike) “Because if I can go through nine days of withdrawals feeling like I’m going to die. You can do it and you can get help. Go to AA, NA and take their suggestions.”

(Keck) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

Resources in Rutland:
Rutland Mental Health 775-2381
Evergreen Substance Abuse Services 747-3588
Narcotics Anonymous 773-5757

Resources in Burlington:
Howard Mental Health Center (800) 639-1585
Chittenden Center in Burlington 656-3700
Narcotics Anonymous 862-4516

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