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Diary of an addict

As part of National Recovery Month, one recovering drug addict shares his experience with RedEye

  • Getty Images photo illustration
Getty Images photo illustration (Getty Images )
September 25, 2012|By Georgia Garvey, @gcgarvey | RedEye

There were no track marks on his arms and he didn't find his dealer on a street corner in a shady neighborhood. A white-coated professional sold him drugs, and he paid with a credit card.

But this 35-year-old North Side man became as addicted as any heroin junkie, even though the pills ruling his life were legal.

"I thought I was the only one in the whole city that was going through this. That's how quiet this epidemic is," said the man, whose name RedEye has agreed to withhold. A financial industry businessman, he worked for years to hide his addiction to Norco, until it got to be too much to handle. (Norco and Vicodin both are brand names for the generic drug hydrocodone.) He's been clean for about a year, but it was a struggle of almost five years to reach that point.

"That's the thing I did not count on. [The pills] sneak up on you," he said. A former athlete who injured himself playing sports, he started taking pills to manage severe pain and eventually got in over his head. Quitting was a lot harder than filling the first prescription. "The recovery is much bigger than just not taking the pills anymore," he said.

September is National Recovery Month, and though there has been good news recently about the falling rate of pill abuse, drug overdose deaths are the highest they've ever been, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also says that in 2009, 475,000 people were admitted to the emergency room after abusing prescription painkillers, a number that doubled in four years.

The implications for addicts like the man RedEye spoke with are disastrous. He said he found himself, after years of consistent "maintenance"-level doses, enslaved to the drug. Thoughts of when he'd take his next pill, or whether he'd have enough that day, consumed him.

Feeling increasingly uncomfortable getting his prescription from one doctor, he picked up an additional two doctors (who didn't know about the other prescriptions) and occasionally supplemented with black-market pills. He became more isolated, stopped hanging out with friends and his relationships suffered.

"The guilt and the shame for taking those drugs and abusing them and going through the work to get them, then going through the work of hiding them, then going through the work of you're coming down and getting another one and you're up again—it's just an unbelievable amount of internal stress," he said. The end result was "exhaustion, pure exhaustion."

Joseph Lee, medical director for rehab facility Hazelden's youth program, said there is a way out of the trap.

"Get help, even if you don't want to change. Your motivation can really increase," he said. "You don't have to wait until bad things happen."

COMMONLY ABUSED PRESCRIPTION DRUGS

Oxycodone

In: OxyContin, Percocet

Type: Opoid/narcotic

Used for: Painkiller

Hydrocodone

In: Vicodin, Norco, Lorcet

Type: Opioid/narcotic

Used for: Painkiller

Clonazepam

In: Klonopin

Type: Benzodiazepine

Used for: Anti-seizure, preventing panic attacks

Lorazepam

In: Ativan

Type: Benzodiazepine

Used for: Anti-anxiety

Alprazolam

In: Xanax

Type: Benzodiazepine

Used for: Anti-anxiety, preventing panic attacks

Dextroamphetamine and amphetamine

In: Adderall

Type: Stimulant

Used for: Treating ADHD or narcolepsy

Methylphenidate

In: Ritalin

Type: Stimulant

Used for: Treating ADHD or narcolepsy

Source: National Institutes of Health

ggarvey@tribune.com

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