Our current problem with heroin is part of a larger problem Americans have with pain. We are awash in prescription pain pills like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
Prescription pain pill addiction has been the bridge for many to heroin. Among new heroin users, approximately three out of four report having abused prescription opioids prior to using dope, according to the CDC.
Reggie Gant and Michael Evans weren’t into drugs when they were younger. They got hooked on heroin by first getting addicted to prescription pain pills, pills that were prescribed for pain.
Gant, 47, was married, a father of three, and a supervisor at a paint company in Columbus when he tore a rotator cuff and pectoral muscle while lifting weights in 2005.
“I couldn’t move my arm. The pain was so intense, I’d go away from my wife and kids and cry,” he recalled.
Worried that he’d lose his job if he was away for an extended time, he tried to rehab his shoulder himself. His family doctor prescribed Percoset to help manage the pain.
This went on for three years, until his doctor refused to write a refill.
“I really didn’t see that I had a problem because I was taking a prescription medication,” Gant said.
Evans, 37, married and a father of four, also started taking doctor-prescribed pain medication to deal with chronic pain from back injuries sustained during years working in construction in and around Columbus.
“I blew out a disk in 2002,” he said. “I had a titanium disk replacement in 2005. I was taking four Oxys a day with two Percosets for breakthrough pain. I was fine. I acted like I didn’t even have surgery. No pain, no nothing.”
Problem with pain
Gant and others like him believed they needed prescription opioids to deal with pain, but Dr. Brad Lander, an addiction specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said their problem with pain came from their minds, rather than their injured bodies.
“Pain pathways run through our emotional centers (of the brain) before they’re perceived,” he explained. “Most of the problems with (prescription pill addicts’) pain is their beliefs about the pain. ‘I can’t stand being in pain, I shouldn’t be in pain, I need to have these drugs to feel better.’”
He said people addicted to prescription pills can learn how to manage pain using alternative therapies, such as heat, accupuncture and massage, and “get to the point where acetaminophen does a fine job.”
From pills to heroin
Evans’ and Gant’s doctors never urged them to try that route, they said.
“I started doctor shopping,” Evans said. “I probably lost every pain care specialist in Columbus. I’d go through a 30-day supply in three days. I was eating them and snorting them.”
He started buying them from others who had access to pain medication.
Gant bought pills from people he had met in his doctor’s waiting room.
He switched to heroin because it was easier to get and cheaper, too: $5 for a “cap,” or capsule, of heroin compared to $30 for one 30-milligram Percocet pill.
“I always snorted it,” Gant said of heroin. “I’d do it in the bathroom, first thing in the morning, hit the line with a little straw.”
Evans used heroin intraveneously. “I wasn’t afraid of needles, being in hospitals so many times for three spinal surgeries,” he said.
Either jail or rehab
Gant said he lost his wife and kids due to his addiction, but the end came when he realized he was going to lose his freedom if he didn’t quit.
“I was taking things from work and selling them,” he said. “I was like, man, if I get caught I’m gonna catch a case.”
Evans did catch a case. He was caught filing a false police report, claiming someone had broken into his car and had stolen his prescription medication.
“The sergeant said to me, ‘Don’t you think you need help?’” It was either jail or rehab,” he said.
He chose rehab. That was in 2015. He’s been clean and sober for 13 months.
Gant entered a detox facility and spent 40 days in an inpatient treatment program. He’s been clean for six months. He moved to Lima because he was unable to get into long-term medication-assisted treatment programs in Columbus. He enrolled in the Suboxone intensive outpatient treatment program at Lima Urban Minority Alcohol Drug Abuse Outreach Program.
“There’s help out there to get clean,” Evans said. “It starts with you.”
“Tell people to remember what it was like when they were afraid of things, and to maintain that healthy fear,” Gant said. “I did things that I never thought I would ever do in a million years. I remember being a kid, and being afraid of stuff like that. I miss that.”
Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or Twitter, @lima_eddings.
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