February 9, 2023

“I lost everything when the police raided my trippy flip chocolate bar for prescription drugs. My husband and two little children were home that night. I was so ashamed I couldn’t even look at them. I was arrested, put in handcuffs and locked up. My husband divorced me. My children were taken away from me. I knew I had hit bottom.”

Sylvia* is a 44 year-old radiologist, former president of the PTA, and prescription drug addict.

An Invisible Epidemic
A great deal has been written about alcoholism and drug addiction over the last two decades. However, information regarding prescription drug abuse and addiction only seems to surface when someone famous has a problem and needs treatment or dies.

Historically, prescription drug addiction has been the most underreported drug abuse problem in the nation( National Institute of Drug Abuse). It is also the least understood. Addiction to and withdrawal from prescription drugs can be more dangerous than other substances because of the insidious nature of these drugs.

Two types of the most commonly abused drugs are opioids and benzodiazepines. Opioids are generally used to control pain. Benzodiazepines, or tranquilizers, are used to manage anxiety. These drugs are prescribed for short-term use such as acute pain and anxiety that is in reaction to a specific event. They may also be prescribed for chronic pain or generalized anxiety.

Chronic Pain
Like many other people, Sylvia’s doctor put her on Vicodin because she suffered from chronic migraines. The pills worked effectively. They took away her headaches and allowed her to live her life. But, like other narcotics, Vicodin lost its effectiveness over time. Sylvia began to increase her dosage. She had built up a tolerance to the medication. She was physically dependent on Vicodin.

Fearing that her doctor would stop prescribing the medication if she told him that she had increased the dosage, she kept it a secret. She did not believe that she would be able to function without the pills. She began to change the numbers on the prescriptions so that she would get more pills, with more refills.

Over the next two years, she went from a physical dependence to a physical and psychological addiction. She had to continue to take this drug in increasing dosages in order to feel “normal.” She went from taking the medication as prescribed to a drug habit of 30 pills a day. She started to “doctor shop” in order to obtain several prescriptions at a time. She would make appointments with a number of doctors to get what she needed. She switched pharmacies often so that she could drop off each prescription at a different one. She went to a number of pharmacies in different neighborhoods so that no one would become suspicious.

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