Chris is a full-time drug addict who has been in and out of prison, often homeless, and is continually seeking whatever high he can find. Yet like the majority of Americans who abuse drugs, his addiction began many years ago with a visit to the emergency room, following an accident in the taxicab he owned in Portland, Oregon.
“I started using lightly,” he says, staring intently forward. “Vicodins, maybe one or one-and-a-half a day.”
He has the steady charm and focus required of all successful addicts, bonding easily and quickly with strangers. He doesn’t fidget or check his phone, or slow down to choose words.
Following the accident, he was unable to work and stayed home with his girlfriend, a recovering addict herself, and their child.
“I tried to make a successful life,” he says with a sad smile, referring to the taxicab business in Portland. “It just didn’t go well. She was miserable in Oregon, so we just started doing more Vicodin, then Percocet.
“I tried to get a lawsuit together, since I lost the cab company and couldn’t work for a couple of months and was behind on bills, but it didn’t work so well. I got just enough to get out of the hole, with a drug habit.”
Following this loss of employment in Oregon, Chris and his family moved to Florida, the epicenter of the prescription drug crisis. At first, he used emergency rooms to get drugs, faking pain and showing the paperwork and records he still had from the accident.
“They’d give me 20 or 30 Vicodin, so I started with that. Later I was doing maybe 40 or 50 a day,” he says. “From there, I went on to Percocet. Then they came out with Oxycontin and Oxycodone, and I was like ‘well that seems a lot better’ because I didn’t have to take 40 or 50 of them. They were like $50 per pill, but it lasted all day. The habit just gets progressively worse.”
Once Chris transitioned to the newer opiates, he became a physically addicted, and had to escalate his use just to avoid the debilitating “dope sickness” users undergo when their bodies are deprived of the drug.
As his drug use increased, his health spiraled downward, as is often the case with heavy opiate abusers.
“At first, it was just for fun. Mentally, I just wasn’t caught up,” he says, referring to his escalating addiction. “I’d say to myself ‘I don’t really need these damn things,’ and I’d go a whole day without, and then the next day I’m sick, you know, what the hell’s wrong with me?
“And my wife, she’s like ‘oh, you’re just dope-sick.’ So I’d take another pill, push the magic button, and feel better.
“Ever since then, I’ve been addicted. It’s hard to shake. When I was doing 30 to 40 pills a day, I couldn’t go four hours without starting to get sick, because your body starts craving it right away, your body absorbs so much opiates it needs them just to function.”
To Be Continued …
Posts by Melanie Rosenblatt, M.D.
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