Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Prescription Drug Addiction

Secret confession time - I'm a Mennonite girl. That doesn't mean quite the same thing now as it did in my mother's day. I remember her telling me that when she was 16 and became a member of her church she had to stand up in front of the whole congregation and promise to never drink, dance, swear or marry anyone other than a Mennonite Brethren guy.

Notice there was no mention of drug use. That's because for any MB teen growing up in the 30s or 40s this was so "verboten" it wouldn't even be considered a temptation. Drugs had not attained any level of popularity yet.

Then there was me. I was a child of the 60s. I didn't care for alcohol and never got drunk, although the one time I consumed eight glasses of wine at a university Christmas Banquet, I had the best sleep of my entire life. I woke up the next morning feeling fabulous! 

My parents frowned on dancing so my moves could definitely use improvement. As for swearing - to hell with it, I never abuse language... I certainly didn't marry an MB guy either, although my parents and most importantly my Great Uncle Abe, all approved of Peter.

For me, drugs were the most tempting. Although I grew up in Abbotsford, the Bible Belt of B.C., with a church on every block in some areas - I went to the toughest junior high. There were drug raids every week and I knew all the dealers. I remember the day one girl, high on acid, jumped off the top of the stairwell and was hurt. When I told my mom that story, she asked me if I did drugs. It was the first and last time she would ever ask that question.

You see, I was a serious academic and athlete, bound for university, I didn't want anything messing with my mind or body. But I was totally unprepared for the rampant temptations that happened when I was living in the dorms on the UBC campus. Almost everyone did drugs including students in engineering, medicine and other demanding fields of study.

By my third year, a close "guy friend" offered to provide me with pot, acid, mushrooms and a lot more plus cover my costs for an entire year if I would just join him in his experimentation. I considered this offer for some time but eventually turned it down. It is a decision I have never regretted. Especially as I watched this talented guy - a gifted musician, artist, writer and film-maker - skip classes, lose his creative drive and eventually drop out. He died at age 25.

For me it was that exact age when everything changed. In previous blogs I have mentioned that I went from being an enthusiastic, highly motivated student - completing my second degree, working two jobs and being involved in the Vancouver film industry - to being bedridden in a matter of days.

I went from having no problem sleeping eight hours a night to rampant insomnia. Panic attacks, a feeling of partial paralysis in my limbs and extreme sensitivities to light and sound landed me in the hospital numerous times. During the next six years I visited over 40 doctors, specialists, naturopaths and allergists as well as a psychiatrist. I was given a plethora of prescription and naturopathic remedies.

My father's policy had always been to flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless the doctor deemed them essential to life. And I did just that after one doctor gave me some Ativan samples to help with my panic attacks.

By the time all other diseases had been eliminated and I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), it was almost six years later and I was a mess. I was in my first year of marriage and six months of that time had been spent apart from my new husband, with people who took care of me 24 hours a day. I needed to be fed and bathed in bed and required assistance to get to the washroom. Peter had tried to do all that, as well as the cleaning, the cooking, the care and work a demanding job. He almost killed himself before he realized it was just too much for him.

I did slowly improve and over the last 20 years I've found one of the few doctors in Canada who specializes in treating CFS and Fibromyalgia. She recommends a combination of prescription drugs and wholistic treatment that helps me sleep, enables me to work and even allows me a bit of a social life.

I have been taking two prescription drugs, on and off, for over 15 years. One of them is addictive. I thought I had been managing the drugs well, but I had a harsh wake-up call a few weeks ago.

I went to get a refill and my pharmacist told me I was over 40 days early. I had been using twice as much of the addicting Ativan than my doctor wanted me to.

Peter often complains that I turn to drugs as a first resort when I am stressed, not sleeping well or having mild CFS symptoms. He is right. In the last two weeks I have been coming to grips with the fact that I am a prescription drug addict. Mind you, many people take a much higher dose of these two drugs than I do - but my mind wants them, my body craves them and I dream about them far too much. I bring them with me everywhere and can go into full panic mode if I forget them.

I was in real trouble. Ativan is a fast-acting psychotropic benzodiazepine that I was supposed to use if I had serious heart palpitations or couldn't get good sleep. 
It was tough to realize I was no longer able to monitor my own medication. I gave the drug to Peter with strict instructions to only give me one pill a day. This has been more of a challenge than I realized but I feel better with less of the drug in my system.

Prescription drug use and abuse has been skyrocketing in North America. 
What's even more interesting is that illicit drug use among teens aged 13-18 has dropped significantly in the last decade but prescription drug use has been rising. 

There is the false perception that prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs. 

A recent study done by the University of Michigan showed that by the 12th grade 8% of students had tried Oxycontin and 10% had tried Vicodin. 

Any HOUSE fans out there? Even though I love Dr. Gregory House, and his biting wit, his much-watched abuse of Vicodin and subsequent treatment for addiction was far too romanticized. It may have spawned a whole new generation of prescription drug addicts.

I am determined to NOT become a drug abuse statistic. Has drug use ever tempted you? Have you ever battled to control your prescription drugs? What helped you the most?


  1. Hugs, not drugs, indeed. Now there's something I could get addicted to - hugs. :)

  2. Of the top 10 leading causes of death in the US (I don't think we would be much different), we find mistakes made by medical personnel and adverse reactions to prescription drugs. Deaths from illegal drugs did not even make the top 10.

    I have never been tempted to take prescription drugs. I did use percoset once when I was suffering with sciatica. It sure did a marvellous job of taking away pain. So I can understand when people are in constant pain, the temptation must be overwhelming at times.

    I pray the grace of God to protect you and give you wisdom as you live each day.

    Darrell Balfour

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  4. Thanks for your comments Darrell. It's true that taking numerous prescription drugs at once can cause massive problems. Many doctors don't know all the drugs their patient is on, or make the mistake of prescribing conflicting drugs. This has led to numerous deaths. Personally, I had a huge negative reaction between my prescription drugs and ginseng. Most pharmacists can not predict how drugs will react with different wholistic supplements. I've almost landed in the hospital because of this. Thanks for your prayers for protection and wisdom - I really need them!

  5. So far I haven't tasted any of the dangerous drugs or abused prescriptive ones, but I've heard stories on TV about the rising cases of drug overdose among youth. Perhaps the reason why I'm not tempted is because of the early education and awareness I was given about its harmful effects.

  6. Thanks for pointing out the false perception that prescription drugs are safer than the illegal ones. Your experience too somehow enlightened readers that it is not good to be dependent on drugs because it would lead to more serious health problems.