The Roller Coaster of Painkiller Addiction

By Victoria Kim 01/31/18

A new feature tells the story of "Jamie," how she got caught in a painful cycle of opioid painkiller addiction, and how her family handled it.

pills illustration
Jamie's story illustrates the powerful grip of prescription painkillers.

new report details the roller coaster of opioid addiction. The story of “Jamie,” an Arkansas nurse who lost the trust of her family, her job, and her husband to hydrocodone addiction, is just one of many. Her story illustrates one of many paths that can lead people to get caught in a painful cycle of opioid addiction, relapse, and loss.

Jamie was introduced to opioids to treat severe pain from a ruptured disc. Determined to avoid surgery, she agreed to take prescription drugs to manage her pain.

She admitted that at first she hesitated to go on medication. “The irony is that I was scared of taking meds,” she said, according to the Texarkana Gazette. “I took the steroids the doctor prescribed me and the muscle relaxers, but I didn’t take the pain pills.”

But one day, after a night out with friends, Jamie was in so much pain—“worse than the three natural childbirths I had”—that she finally reached for the hydrocodone. The opioid painkiller not only numbed Jamie’s nerve pain, it also helped her forget about her marital problems at the time. The euphoria was something she had never experienced before. “They made me feel like I could conquer the world,” she said. “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.”

Ten to 12 months and many refills later, Jamie said she could start feeling the pain again. “I had to take more and more to get that feeling I wanted.” Her ruptured disc had gotten worse over time, and she finally agreed to undergo surgery in 2010, or risk inflicting permanent nerve damage.

The surgery was a success, but Jamie had trouble getting off the painkillers. Her doctor tried helping her taper off the hydrocodone, but she resisted. She started seeing other doctors to get painkillers. “There was nothing hard about getting them.”

When she finally revealed her drug problem to her mother, Mary, it was like she “dropped a bomb.” “I was probably a little judgmental,” said Mary. “I wanted to slap her and say, ‘Snap out of it.’”

Jamie was able to get off the painkillers with the help of her family doctor, and took time off work to recover. She described this being a “depressing” time. “I had dark thoughts,” she said. “It was a horrible time.”

However, even with the support of her family, Jamie’s recovery did not last. She relapsed after receiving painkillers from her dentist. Eventually, she was taking up to 20 pills a day, 40-50 milligrams at a time.

She surrendered her nursing license to the Arkansas Nursing Board and spent a month at rehab, but once home, she began drinking and was on painkillers again.

This time, she went on methadone, got a new job, and met her second husband, “the love of my life.”

But she suffered another relapse after a 2016 car accident. This time she was prescribed tramadol, another opioid, for muscle spasms and anxiety. This time, things really spiraled out of control.

She found someone to buy pills from at $10 per pill, instead of getting prescriptions. To sustain her drug use, she began stealing and pawning off her loved ones’ belongings. “I was lying and stealing,” said Jamie. “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.”

When she confessed, her parents were disappointed but understanding. Her husband, on the other hand, had had enough.

After an intervention organized by her mother and her best friend, Jamie went on methadone again last June, and is now working on fixing her relationship with her family.

Through it all, Jamie recalled that her parents never gave up on her. “They have never turned their backs on me, and they never will,” she said.

Mary has been called an enabler for not being tough enough on Jamie. But she’s okay with the label. “Maybe I am. I would never kick her out. But I might kick her butt,” she said. “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.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr