Portraits of Prescription Opiate Abuse

Some very brave souls agreed to be interviewed in Sunday’s story about the rise of prescription opiate drugs. Some of their accounts are in the story, while others, due to space constraints, were not.

In short, a lot of people shaped this project. But I wanted to share with you the stories of four others who provided powerful tales of how they struggled with opiate addiction. Their stories are often similar: a simple swallowing of a pill, but the way the drugs pushed their lives into disarray — and their subsequent recoveries — is too important not to share.

Below, you’ll find stories of a man who resorted to pharmacy robbery, a woman who went to Mexico in search of prescription opiates, a man who crashed his car into a tree at 40 mph while high on “oxy” and drunk, and a woman who used her job at a dentist’s office to support a 20-pill a day vicodin habit.

Note: You’ll see two people are nameless, and two reveal their first names. I honored their requests for the sake of learning more about the addiction.

The Man who Would Rob Pharmacies

The first high was the best high — and every time thereafter “you want to try to find the first time again,” the man said of OxyContin, a particularly potent prescription opiate.

“It never works,” he said, “but the addict in your head tells you it will.”

The man, who normally lives in South Kitsap, is currently serving a prison sentence for robbing pharmacies of prescription drugs in the past year.

He remembers the first time he tried “Oxy”: he was 15 and his girlfriend was into it.
“It’s just the best feeling ever,” he said of the high. “Your body feels great. You feel like you’re on top of the world.”

Slowly, he recalled, the drug reigned him in. One pill a week became one pill a day. And more. But he began to use the pills differently.

OxyContin’s “time-release” formula treats pain effectively by releasing the opiate slowly to the brain over many hours. Eventually, the addiction moved him to more rudimentary and traditional drug-taking methods. At first it was crushing the pills and snorting them; eventually it was smoking them, which produced an almost instant, ever-more addictive high.

“I depended on it to feel good, to work, to sleep,” he said. “I came to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed to go to work without it. I couldn’t sleep without it.”

It got to be a 10-pill a day habit. And at a standard pill of 80 milligrams going for about $1 a milligram on the street, he was shelling out $800 a day to support it.

Aside from blowing his paycheck on pills, that meant manipulating and stealing from friends and even family.

“It took over my body,” he said. “It was making me do whatever I had to had to. It made me lie like no other.”

A three-day trip to “detox” after about 3 years of using didn’t do any good. He found Oxy the day he got out. But when he failed to show up for work one day, he lost his job.

Eventually, he took a note into a local pharmacy, claimed in a note to have a weapon, and escaped with pills.

A police investigation turned him up as the suspect not long after the robbery. He spent his time at the Kitsap County jail enduring withdrawls — vomiting, diarrhea, extreme chills and sweats — because his family wouldn’t bail him out until he detoxed.

“It made me an evil person altogether,” he said.


“The fog” kept Erika’s house spotless, her hedges trimmed, and her boss’s schedule as full as it had ever been.

The Poulsbo woman was popping around 40 extra-strength Vicodin every two days, nine at a time. She landed bottle after bottle of the opiate-based prescription by calling a local pharmacist and claiming the pills were for patients of the dentist she worked for.

The pills that put her in the fog, as she now calls it, calmed her, took away her worries, and helped her focus.

As the scheduler for the office, she became a pro at efficiently booking patients and boosting her boss’ production to record levels. The wife and mother of two kept her home immaculate.

But the drug Erika was abusing was a pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration, though it held the same addictive qualities as one of its chemical cousins, heroin.

It was only a matter of time before a savvy pharmacist caught on to her act.
She lost her job and put her boss at risk of losing his license. She thought she was going to jail.

When the drugs ran out, she experienced the same withdrawal systems a drug-injecting junkie does: a high fever while feeling frigidly cold, restlessness and twitching, vomiting and diarrhea, and sleeplessness.

Despite all that, she risked it all again for the drug.

She began a similar rouse at another dentist’s office, but was caught in a matter of months. This time, she was caught in a matter of months, and, upon facing a felony, enrolled in Kitsap County Drug Court.

Though she even contemplated suicide, Erika , survived, though she still wonders what the drug’s effect on her body will be later in life.

She knows now what the fog took away from her.

“You’re going through all the steps of life,” she said of being high. “But you’re not living it.”

Erica eventually found life without prescription opiates. Her troubles led her to Kitsap County Drug Court, where she graduated and is now again working for a dentist.

There was one day after she’d gotten clean in which she was sitting on her porch. It began to rain, and she could hear it like never before, amidst old growth maple trees near her house.

“I’d lived there three years and never realized how beautiful it is,” she said.

Future fears for her do loom, however: what will she do for anesthesia if she needs major surgery? She says she’ll pass, because the temptation to get addicted once more is simply too great.

“I don’t ever want to put myself in a position where I may be tempted,” she said. “To
save myself, I have to.”


The Bremerton native, who left for Texas for awhile, has battled with opiate, marijuana and alcohol addiction for most of her adult life.

But prescription opiates made her numb — and very addicted.

The drugs dominated her life. She held down work, but her appearance — at 117 pounds — made abuse obvious.

“I did everything possible to get more,” she said. “I went to Mexico. I went to physicians. I bought them off the street. I stole them.”

Inside Mexican pharmacies, she’d stock up before coming back over the border. She’d take them out of their packaging and — viola — a small easily transportable supply.

But her mother knew something wasn’t right, so she flew to Texas to see Paris, who’d lost her job.

“I was out of control,” she said.

Her parents brought her back to Kitsap. She suffered through the withdrawls of chills, sweats and feeling “like the couch was biting me.” Now recovered, and at 47, she works at the Olalla Recovery Center screening new patients.

“I somehow survived,” she said. “Thank God for my parents.”

The Man who Hit a Tree

It was hard for the man to stay off the prescription opiates, primarily because his wife uses OxyContin legitimately.

At first, it was subtle: “Give me one,” he’d say. “Give me two.”

But several years of moderate use spurred the man, who lives in South King County but is being treated in Kitsap, to go to doctors for more. He faked neck injuries just to get pills.

The man is no stranger to addiction. He’s known he’s an alcoholic all his life. While he’d been clean five years, he since been stumbling, and has been through outpatient treatment three times.

This time, he opted for impatient — mainly because the addiction was killing him.

After a 160 milligram oxy and a “pint of liquor” one day, he drove home from work and wrapped around a tree at 40 mph. But he said the accident didn’t even phase his addiction.

It was later, when he went to the hospital and was told by his doctor that he was closing in on a deadly risk with pancreatis.

“That was the final straw,” he said.

He went through all the horrors of opiate withdrawl: sweating, chills, skin crawls, and vomiting.

Following his 21 days in treatement, he believes he can turn his life around. But he knows, “while the alcohol is around the corner, the opiates will be right there at home.”

He said he’ll be vigilant and never again give up on the treatments that help him stay off the drugs. That means recovery is a lifelong affair.

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