- Associated Press - Sunday, January 21, 2018

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) - When she got hooked on hydrocodone, pain pills were cheap and easy to get from a doctor. With good insurance, you could get about 90 pills for under $5.

Later, when she resorted to buying hydrocodone on the street, it cost her at least $10 a pill.

But 46-year-old Jamie was willing to pay the price.

“It’s like nothing can quench your thirst,” she said. “That buildup you want it so bad. It’s chasing something that will make you not feel bad. When you get it, it’s an immediate feeling of satisfaction. But the feeling of not having it? It’s horrible. It’s that flu feeling. You are sweaty. You ache. Your mind is racing. It’s like the flu times 100.”

The mental part of wanting the pills is even worse.

“That’s what gets people in trouble and why they can’t quit,” she said. “Because without that chemical, you cannot function. I could handle the sweats and the body aches if I had a choice, but you don’t get to have a choice.”

The cost of the addiction has been tremendously high for Jamie; $10 for one pill was a drop in the bucket.

Jamie stole from her husband, pawned his things and bought pills.

When her parents went to the beach on vacation, she went in their house and stole from them. She pawned her mother’s jewelry and bought pills.

The Texarkana Gazette reports that over the past few years, Jamie’s mother, Mary, has been Jamie’s biggest support system, even during the darkest days - such as those she spent visiting pawn shops in hopes of getting her stolen valuables back.

“We went to the pawn shops when we got back and retrieved as much as we could,” Mary said.

But some things you can never get back.

“I love her, but I don’t trust her,” Mary said.

Jamie’s children love her, but they don’t trust her.

Her ex-husband loves her, but he can’t be married to her.

“I lost the best thing that ever happened to me. He couldn’t understand how a disease could make you steal from your family,” Jamie said.

In her struggle to overcome opioid addiction, Jamie has relapsed, gotten clean and relapsed again.

“I have so much guilt. I’m not a bad person. I’m not this person I became,” she said.

“I’m not a stupid person, but I have made stupid choices,” Jamie said. “And I’m not stupid enough to think it couldn’t happen again.” It started with a ruptured disc. And a prescription for hydrocodone.

Jamie was an operating room nurse and mother of three. She was in a bad marriage with her first husband, and she was stressed. Then one day in 2006, she woke up in a lot of physical pain.

“I woke up one morning and couldn’t turn my head. I didn’t know what happened,” she said.

She had an MRI and was diagnosed with a ruptured disc. She didn’t want surgery, so she was prescribed steroids, muscle relaxers and hydrocodone.

“The irony is that I was scared of taking meds. I was scared to take Tylenol or ibuprofen, and I always researched antibiotics,” she said. “I took the steroids the doctor prescribed me and the muscle relaxers, but I didn’t take the pain pills.”

Her marriage was in trouble during this time.

“We were having a lot of problems. He was having an affair and was just emotionally, mentally and physically abusive. Then I had this injury, and he didn’t know how to handle it. One night, we had gone out with friends, and I was hurting so bad, I told them to just drop me off at home. I had nerve pain shooting down my arm that was worse than the three natural childbirths I had. I had been having trouble sleeping, and so I decided it was time to take a pain pill,” Jamie said.

That pill changed everything. The energy and euphoria were like nothing she had ever felt before.

“I didn’t care my husband was cheating on me. I didn’t hurt. So I started taking them on a regular basis,” Jamie said.

“They made me feel like I could conquer the world,” she said. “They made me not feel the feelings I should have been feeling at that time.”

She took hydrocodone for about a year.

“I just kept getting the prescriptions refilled. But 10 to 12 months later, the pain was getting bad again, and I knew the hydro was not working as well. I had to take more and more to get that feeling I wanted,” she said.

Meanwhile, the degenerative disc disease had progressed: two discs were ruptured, and another was bulging. In 2010, her doctor told her she needed surgery to prevent permanent nerve damage.

“The surgery was like magic. I did not feel the stab in the back of my arm. My neck was fine. I went home with hydrocodone,” Jamie said.

The doctor continued to prescribe the pain pills for a couple of months after the surgery but then told Jamie it was time to start weaning herself off them with the help of Valium.

Jamie was not ready to give up hydrocodone.

“That was when I started doctor shopping and (name omitted) was my drug dealer. I started saying my knee hurts or my toe hurt, and they would give me 240 pills at 10 milligrams a pill,” she said. “There was nothing hard about getting them.”

Taking that many pain pills has physical side effects, and Jamie began to experience a few problems.

After having an anxiety attack one night, Jamie admitted to her mother that she was addicted to hydrocodone.

“I made her take me to the (emergency room). I told them I was on hydro and could they help me stop?” Jamie said.

At the time, her parents had no idea she was abusing pain pills.

“She walked in and dropped a bomb,” Mary said. “I was probably a little judgmental. I wanted to slap her and say, ‘Snap out of it.’”

Jamie’s family doctor “gracefully and wonderfully” helped her wean off the pills, she said.

She took a two-month leave of absence to get better.

“My mother would come to my house and give me my dose. I saw my doctor once a week,” Jamie said. She also a saw counselor through her job.

Even with the support she was receiving, it was a very hard time.

“It was depressing, I had dark thoughts. It was a horrible time. I know I would never actually kill myself, but I thought about it,” she said.

Her three children knew she was struggling.

“My parents helped me with the kids,” Jamie said. “They would get them to school and back.”

She got off the pills and went back to work.

“I was OK for a while, then I relapsed. One pill and I was hooked. My dentist gave it to me. Then I got a dry socket and one led to many.”

She found herself taking 40 to 50 milligrams at a time, sometimes 20 pills a day. This time, she went to rehab for a month at a clinic in another county. She also surrendered her nursing license and reported herself to the Arkansas Nursing Board.

“If I surrendered my license willingly, it would make it easier to get it back,” she said.

Jamie detoxed at the clinic but was not able to stay clean when she got home.

“I started drinking and taking more pills. I was a horrible mother during that time,” she said. “So then I tried methadone.”

Methadone treatment has often been considered controversial, but it worked for Jamie.

“It was good thing for me. I went every day and got my dose,” she said.

She got a job sitting with an elderly person and went back to school to become a drug and alcohol counselor.

She learned about herself in the process and got off of the methadone the correct way.

She started trying to get her nursing license back and in June 2014, she met the man who would become her second husband.

“I met the love of my life,” she said.

She got her nursing license back and went to work for the rehab clinic where she was treated.

But she had to give up the license again when she refused to attend narcotics anonymous meetings, a requirement to keep the license.

A car accident in 2016 sent her on a downward spiral again. She was not seriously injured but suffered muscle spasms and a lot of anxiety. A doctor prescribed Jamie tramadol, which is also an opiate and can be addictive.

“Taking tramadol led me to do, what I would never thought I would do,” she said. “Which was buying hydro off the street.”

A relative of her husband’s introduced her to someone who sold pills out of his home.

“I remember burning his phone up. Seeing him coming and knowing he had what I wanted. I can’t even describe the feeling.”

The pills sold for about $10 apiece, and she needed a lot to get through the day.

“I was lying and stealing,” she said. “I pawned my husband’s things and justified it by saying they were our things. I stole from my parents. It was the worst feeling in the whole world.”

She eventually confessed to her family what she had been doing.

“My parents were so understanding. They never took their support from me.”

Her parents were disappointed, though.

“I was terribly disappointed. She’s a nurse for criminy’s sake,” Mary said. “But when you need it that bad, you get to the point of desperation.”

Jamie’s new husband tried to be supportive, but when Jamie started using again, he couldn’t continue with the marriage.

“He was just in real shock. He did not deserve what he got,” she said.

Her mother and best friend staged an intervention.

“They cornered me, and I was upset. I felt attacked, but it was also a weird feeling of relief knowing somebody knew and maybe they could help,” Jamie said.

Jamie got on methadone again and has been on it since June. She has a clerical job at a clinic that she likes, and she is working to rebuild family relationships while living with her parents.

“They have been wonderful. I know it’s a huge adjustment for them, but they have never been anything but supportive,” she said. “They have never turned their backs on me, and they never will.”

Mary said she has been called an enabler for allowing Jamie to move in with them.

“Maybe I am,” she said. “I would never kick her out. But I might kick her butt. I just want to see her conquer this and see her move out on her own. I hope and pray she never relapses again, but I know it’s a possibility.”

Jamie sees a counselor once a week. Her goal is to wean herself off the methadone and start attending narcotics anonymous meetings.

It’s harder now to get prescription pain pills than it was when Jamie started taking them.

“If those restrictions had been in place then, I would not be where I am now,” she said. “I made the choice to take it, but I got it too easy.”

Her advice for anyone struggling with opioid addiction is to ask for help and not try to handle it yourself.

If Jamie’s drug screens are clean for three months, she can reapply for her nursing license.

“I’m more goal-oriented now, and I wasn’t that way six months ago,” she said. “I know where I want to go. And I’m focused on getting through the day and seeing where I can get tomorrow. I don’t want to be 50 years old and dealing with addiction.”

“There is always the possibility I could relapse again,” she said. “I’m OK for now. I look forward to my job, and that gives me joy, my grandchildren still give me joy. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. It’s an on-earth hell. What person would want to go back to that? Who would want to do this time and time again?”

___

Information from: Texarkana Gazette, http://www.texarkanagazette.com


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