Surviving The Pain Medication Epidemic

A Cautionary Tale

By Lucia Wara-Goss


After they wheeled my roommate out on a stretcher, I wondered out loud to the remaining roommates in our living room, “Why did she randomly decide to shoot drugs?”

I live in a dual diagnosed independent living home, the name of which I cannot repeat. We all have mental health and substance abuse issues, hence the dual diagnosis. And whenever there is a local drug surge, we are the most vulnerable to it. My roommate overdosed on pain pills, then started shooting speed as a pick-me-up.

You go to the ER because you hurt your back, have the stomach flu, or slice your hand open on a dull blade that slipped while cooking. Do they prescribe a week off? Anti-nausea suppositories? 800mg of Ibuprofen? Maybe. But they also prescribe pain pills. I have learned during my 15 years clean and sober NEVER to accept a prescription for pain meds. But I always have to remind the doctor that I have a history of substance abuse.

Only once in 15 years did I accept a prescription, a three-day prescription for Oxycodon, which I took for the removal of an infected molar and wisdom teeth. I started taking the prescription after the removals, took it 3 times a day for 3 days, and didn’t ask for more. That was it. I took it exactly as the doctor prescribed. That is how everyone is expected to take medication. Like you have a lot to lose if you don’t take it perfectly. Like you have respect for the medication and the effect it has on you.

Pain pills are incredibly addictive. It’s important to consider alternative therapies like acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, psychotherapy, group therapy, diet and exercise, etc. Otherwise, the pain can get worse while the dose stays the same. There are many in this predicament who, desperate and in pain and have turned to dangerous street drugs.

A Fox News story on the rise of heroin use in the Bay Area, cites 47,055 deaths due to drug overdoses in 2014, “the equivalent of about 125 Americans every day,” according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In mining days, miners used to lower a canary into the coal mine as a warning system. If it came up alive there was enough oxygen for the miners to survive. If the canary did not survive, the miners knew not to go into the coal mine. If 125 people are dying from overdoses every day then this is an important message, a canary in the coal mine.

Not just the most vulnerable in society are susceptible, it could happen to anyone, even you. This is because prescription strength pain pills are just the start of reaching for a quick fix to feel better. Then it’s anxiety medication. Then it’s narcotics. Then it’s street drugs. That’s several steps. It starts with pain meds and ends in heroine use which can lead to death. Sometimes this devolution goes quickly, sometimes slowly. But the arrow ultimately points to a coffin. So what can you do at each step if you find yourself here?

I attend group meetings with many people. I heard one man say recently that everyone on the planet qualifies for at least three different kinds of 12-step programs. He was joking but he isn’t far off. In the world we live in, everyone knows someone who has a mental illness or addiction problem. It’s kind of like poker. If you don’t know the fool at the table, you are probably the fool.

Mental illness and addiction touches a huge population of people, who often self-medicate before a doctor tells them they have a chemical or mental imbalance.

Diet, exercise, and vitamins may help stress, but before you let people tell you their opinions, often based in denial about their own imbalances, if you think you may need help, talk to a psychiatrist. Consider attending an open meeting of AA. If nothing else you will get a lot of inspirational speeches and information on how to be a survivor of going through the wringer, which we can all relate to.

I asked my fellow residents to offer their insights for this story, but none were willing to go on record, a fact which underlines the shame and secretiveness of addiction.

For a list of local and national 12-step programs ranging from drugs and alcohol, to eating disorders, to sex addiction, to co-dependency, to compulsive disorders and more, check out:

You can also get free, confidential counseling through the BCC Wellness Center, located behind the classrooms on the first floor of 2000 Center Street in Room 110, Monday – Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Drop in or email for an appointment.

Check out our story “Who Wants a Free Massage” in issue 16.1 of the BCC Voice for more info about the BCC Health Services Center.

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