by Megan Milligan
Reid, who prefers to be known only by his first name, said his drug problem started when he was 16. He found an old prescription of 5mg Percocet in his dad’s desk drawer. He took four from that bottle.
According to Reid, that was all it took to send him looking around the house for more painkiller prescriptions.
“After a year and a half I [took] every prescription in my house, replacing them with Tylenol or something,” Reid said.
Before that, he was a well-rounded high school student. He played every sport his school had to offer and received good grades.
According to Reid, he was from an upper-middle class family, with both parents at home. He didn’t have any more strife than any of his friends. “Just normal teenage stuff,” he said.
At first, he said, his drug use was recreational. But when he moved away to college, things changed; he had found a dealer. By age 20 he had spent $20,000 on OxyContin alone.
After realizing he was heading down a bad path, Reid decided to stop using altogether. Then his best friend Meghan died after being struck by a vehicle. After three months of sobriety, Reid relapsed and was worse off than before, he said.
“One day my dealer didn’t have Oxy and only had heroin. I didn’t really want to get it because I was scared as f–– of heroin, but when you’re at rock bottom, you do dumb sh–-, so I figured, ‘f— it, my life is awful anyways, I might as well try it’.”
Soon after, he saw a friend shooting up OxyContin, and he began shooting up as well. He spent a majority of his senior year in college shooting up until he ran out of money.
Reid’s story is not uncommon. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, painkillers are the most commonly abused drugs in America.
Their research suggests that painkiller addiction is an open door to heroin abuse.
According to Foundation for a Drug Free world, next to marijuana, painkillers are the most commonly used drugs among teenagers. “One in 10 high school seniors in the U.S. admits to abusing prescription painkillers,” the organization reports.
Furthermore, doctors and rehab therapists report that prescription painkiller abuse is one of the most difficult addictions to treat.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction can be treated with “evidence based interventions.” Treatment begins with detox, or the body clearing itself of the drug. Since drug detox can be extremely painful for the patient, it is often done in a hospital setting, with doctors administering medications.
After the detox process, it is recommended that the patient stay in a long term rehab facility. The NIDA website explains that people cannot stop using drugs on their own because “repeated drug use changes the brain,” including the part of the brain that enables one to exhibit self-control.
Even if a person desires to quit, the rewiring in the brain makes quitting alone very difficult.
Eventually, Reid, 23, realized he couldn’t keep going on the way he was, so he asked his parents for help. Afraid of the stigma, he didn’t admit to his parents that he was addicted to heroin, opting instead to tell them it was painkillers.
He felt as though his parents didn’t understand his problem or have the resources to help him, so he decided to do it on his own. He quit cold turkey. Reid described the withdrawal as his “soul getting ripped out. It’s something I never want to experience again.”
After 70 days of sobriety, he relapsed after his father left his painkiller prescription on the kitchen counter. Reid ingested the entire bottle.
Reid began to understand that chronic pain, which heroin had numbed him from, has made it difficult to stop using. After receiving the diagnosis for his chronic pain, he was able to manage it properly and has stopped using drugs.
He has since learned that it wasn’t about “just liking to get high.” Instead, drug use was due to his depression and issues with low self-esteem.
“I was just so broken, and I still am to a degree, that I couldn’t see the truth,” Reid said.
On day 11 of sobriety, he decided to get a shot called Vivitrol from his doctor. It makes him incapable of being drunk or getting high.
He now goes to a rehab group once a week while he finishes his business degree locally in graduate school.
Now 79 days clean, Reid said he just wants to move on with his life. “I won’t let heroin addiction ruin my life for good,” Reid explained. “I won’t give up. I just want to be happy and enjoy my life.”
Megan Milligan, who was junior editor of The Communitarian, a Delaware County Community College publication where this was first published, currently attends Temple University and writes for the Temple News.