Caught With Oxy: The Domino Effect

By Tony O'Neill 08/08/12

One man's sad story shows just how much an isolated drug bust can wreck your life.

One thing led to another. Photo via

“Make no mistake about it: We are At War now—with somebody—and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives,” Hunter S. Thompson famously said in the aftermath of 9/11. He could easily have been talking about the War on Drugs, a relatively recent target of which is Rx pill abuse. Amid the charge to crack down on people taking addictive prescription pills without permission, people who are neither addicts nor dealers risk becoming collateral damage. Over at the Reason blog they've uncovered the Kafka-esque story of “James. He was pulled over by police in Florida—ground zero for the pill epidemic—back in 2006. Both a full-time graduate student at the University of North Florida and a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch, James hardly fit the “menace to society” stereotype. A random traffic stop led to a search, after an officer claimed he could “smell marijuana” (there was none in the car). That search revealed a single OxyContin pill, which led to James's arrest for possession of an illicit narcotic—he says the pill was given to him at a concert he'd just attended and that he'd never used the drug before.

His arrest sparked a two-year nightmare. His lawyer advised him to plead no-contest, saying he would likely get probation and then have his record expunged, but "After being assured that the penalty would be light," James tells Reason, "it turned into a bigger ordeal than I could ever imagine." As soon as James pleaded no-contest, the judge started “piling on the penalties.” Despite not being an addict, he was made to attend two NA meetings a week for a year, plus 15 weekend-long, state-run drug classes (which he had to pay for). On top of this, a year-long curfew stopped him from attending school, and he had to report his arrest to his employer—and was therefore fired. Finding another job was hard, and James ended up working as a short-order cook. That’s the nutshell version; the full story is more extraordinary still.

As “James” puts it: "I could really see how someone could get caught 'in the system' and have a stigma attached to them, and, for people with, say, a high school diploma, why they would just resort to drug dealing, or worse, because the government prevented their ability to find a job due to this…It's sad that the government creates this group of 'drug offenders' who are not harming anyone, be it pot smokers or pill poppers, and then indirectly prevents them from getting jobs. Once you get something like this on your record, it is either start your own business or become under-employed."

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.