Chas­ing that high

Re­cov­er­ing drug ad­dict shares heart wrench­ing story

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY DENISE PIKE

Pen­ney, a 23-year-old from Con­cep­tion Bay North, says she spent the past two years chas­ing some­thing she says she could never catch... the feel­ing she got from her first OxyCon­tin high.

“I wanted to feel that same level of eu­pho­ria I felt the first time I ever swal­lowed an OxyCon­tin pill, but I could never get it,” she says. “How­ever that never stopped me, I just kept swal­low­ing and snort­ing it. I needed it to func­tion, but even­tu­ally it kept me from func­tion­ing.”

Pen­ney snorted her last line of OxyCon­tin pills four months ago.

“I got sick of it. I was sick of the life­style, sick of the ly­ing and steal­ing and I knew if I didn’t stop then it would only get worse. I would even­tu­ally be do­ing nee­dles and hooked on co­caine be­cause that’s what usu­ally hap­pens to a drug ad­dict. They go on to use an­other stronger drug when the one they are on is no longer giv­ing them the high they need.”

Pen­ney con­tacted The Com­pass with her story be­cause she hopes it will de­ter oth­ers from dab­bling with drugs.

She didn’t want to use her real name be­cause she wanted to save her par­ents from fur­ther em­bar­rass­ment and pain.

“I have no prob­lem in us­ing my real name be­cause many peo­ple al­ready know of my sit­u­a­tion, but mom and dad don’t want me to dis­close it,” she says. “And they’ve been through enough be­cause of me. Maybe down the road I will be more pub­lic about it all, but for now I have to think about them.”

Pen­ney met with The Com­pass last Mon­day, April 18 in Car­bon­ear - two hours be­fore head­ing off to Shop­pers Drug Mart for her methadone treat­ment. Methadone, known as juice or meth, be­longs to the opioid fam­ily of drugs and is used to treat de­pen­dence on other drugs such as heroin, codeine, mor­phine and OxyCon­tin. When taken as pre­scribed methadone is safe, but when bought off the street and taken by some­one it is not pre­scribed for, it can be lethal.

Meth pro­gram

Pen­ney has been tak­ing methadone since last De­cem­ber. Ev­ery day she goes to Shop­pers and waits while the phar­ma­cist mixes 53 mg of the methadone liq­uid with Tang and hands it to her to con­sume in front of him.

“ That’s part of the pro­gram for ev­ery­one who is on it,” she ex­plains. “He (phar­ma­cist) has to be able to see us drink the meth, that way we can’t just take it and sell it on the street.”

Pen­ney’s treat­ment is go­ing so well her doc­tor ( Jeff White, whose clinic is lo­cated in Par­adise) has granted her a carry out.

That means once a week I can take the bot­tle of meth home with me, in­stead of hav­ing to drink it in the store,” she says. “But I have to bring the bot­tle back the fol­low­ing day.” A carry out is granted only af­ter an ad­dict has been on the methadone pro­gram for a num­ber of months and tested neg­a­tive for drugs.

Pen­ney will be on the meth pro­gram for at least a year. She’s grate­ful for the pro­gram and of the treat­ment given by Dr. White.

“I know some peo­ple don’t agree with the meth pro­gram, but I wouldn’t be able to stay clean with­out it,” she says. “Dr. White spe­cial­izes in this treat­ment and is pretty amaz­ing. He is just one of three doc­tors in the prov­ince who do this. Each time I see him I have to have a pee test done, to make sure I am not still us­ing. He’s pretty strict about ev­ery­thing. Thank God it is all work­ing for me, but we need more doc­tors like Dr. White here in the prov­ince.”

Ac­cord­ing to Pen­ney the high that came with snort­ing or swal­low­ing OxyCon­tin wasn’t what kept her us­ing.

“It was the with­drawal symp­toms. They were so bad I thought I would die and I wanted to die to be hon­est,” she said. “ The mus­cle pain, sweats, nau­sea in­som­nia, de­pres­sion and itch­i­ness made me want to kill my­self. In fact I threat­ened sui­cide a cou­ple of times and ended up in the hos­pi­tal.”

Pulling up the sleeves of her sweater she re­veals dozens of scars up and down her arms.

“ You itch when you are on Oxy and you itch when you are try­ing to come off it. I con­stantly scratched and picked my­self and this is the end re­sult. I hope these marks even­tu­ally fade away,” she says.

Her de­ci­sion

Any­one who meets Pen­ney would never sus­pect her of be­ing an OxyCon­tin ad­dict. She just doesn’t fit the pro­file of what many be­lieve qual­i­fies as a drug user. The 110-pound ar­tic­u­late young woman was never abused, grew up in a lov­ing fam­ily and never did drugs as a teen.

“I never smoked cig­a­rettes and I never tried mar­i­juana in high school,” she says. “In fact me and my friends all looked down on peo­ple who did that. We con­sid­ered peo­ple who used drugs as dirty. We looked down on them and it. They weren’t the kind of peo­ple we hung around with.”

Dur­ing her high school years Pen­ney was a good stu­dent and very ath­letic. She played on sev­eral sports teams and took part in the an­nual telly ten in Car­bon­ear.

Pen­ney took her first Per­co­cet pill when she just af­ter she turned 19. Her boyfriend bought the pills from a drug dealer in Car­bon­ear.

“He tried them the same time as I did,” she says. “ We did them for a week or so and then gave them up. They made me feel gross and dirty.”

But a few weeks later the two grad­u­ated to OxyCon­tin.

“Per­co­cet is a gate­way drug. Four Per­coet pills are equal to about one 20 mg OxyCon­tin pill. Oxy has much more oxy­codone and af­fects the body twice as long than Per­co­cet,” says Pen­ney. “All the peo­ple my boyfriend were hang­ing out with were tak­ing Oxy. He took them and I de­cided to try it too. And that’s im­por­tant to note... I de­cided to try them, it was my de­ci­sion, not his. He didn’t force me. No one opened my mouth and forced the pills down my throat. I did it of my own free will. I’m re­spon­si­ble for my ac­tions and the con­se­quences that fol­lowed.”

Liv­ing hell

Over the next 18 months Pen­ney went from 20 to 80 mg of OxyCon­tin per day.

“Many peo­ple are tak­ing 400 mg. a day, so I wasn’t do­ing a lot com­pared to that, but I just couldn’t go with­out it and the with­drawal symp­toms were too hor­ri­ble,” she says. “I was swal­low­ing or snort­ing all the time, all day and all night too. I’d snort a line and then an­other and then freak be­cause I thought I had over­dosed. I did that too many times to count. It re­laxed me, but the more Oxy I took the more I needed to func­tion. That’s how Oxy works, the more you take, the more you have to take to get the same ef­fect.”

Pen­ney tried sev­eral times to quit, but couldn’t.

“ The with­drawals were hor­ren­dous and the crav­ings al­most drove me mad,” she says. “On top of that my boyfriend was still us­ing. Cold turkey did not work for me.”

Mean­while Pen­ney and her boyfriend got good jobs on the main­land so they packed up and moved.

“He was mak­ing $35 an hour and I was get­ting $27,” she says. “But we never had a cent. All our money went to buy Oxy.”

And the ad­dic­tive drug turned the pretty, sweet woman into some­one com­pletely dif­fer­ent. She would go days with­out get­ting a shower and was moody, re­bel­lious, dis­re­spect­ful and dis­hon­est.

“It was a liv­ing hell,” Pen­ney says. “I would come back home with my par­ents pe­ri­od­i­cally and try to clean my­self up, but it only lasted a few weeks or so. My mother sus­pected I was on Oxy or some­thing and would ask me, but I al­ways de­nied it. Mom found the straws I was us­ing to snort with, she knew money was dis­ap­pear­ing and she had heard the ru­mours, but I lied about it all. I would look her right in the face and lie about it or get mad at her. “

Her eyes brim­ming with tears she adds: “My mom was and is my best friend, but I wasn’t the daugh­ter she knew and raised, Oxy had taken her, that daugh­ter was gone.”

To feed her drug habit Pen­ney did many things she now re­grets, in­clud­ing steal­ing from her par­ents.

“ When I think about it now I feel so bad. That’s some­thing I would never have done. I would never have treated my fam­ily like that. I wish I hadn’t hurt them, caused them all this pain,” she says. “ But I was ad­dicted to Oxy so bad I didn’t have a con­science any­more and I would do al­most any­thing to get the pills. That’s what Oxy does, it robs you of your con­science.”

Road to re­cov­ery

Pen­ney cred­its her boyfriend’s par­ents with get­ting her on the road to re­cov­ery.

“ They came to the main­land and brought me home,” she says while wip­ing the tears from her face. “If they didn’t pay for that plane ticket, I would prob­a­bly still be there do­ing Oxy or worse. They’ve been so sup­port­ive of me. They have their own is­sues with my boyfriend, their son, to deal with, but they have helped me more than I can ex­plain or ever re­pay. I’m so grate­ful to them.”

She says ad­mit­ting she was an ad­dict to her fa­ther was one of the hard­est things she has ever had to do.

“I was afraid he would be so dis­ap­pointed and hurt, he would kick me out of the house,” she says. “I was his lit­tle girl, he loved me and wanted me to make some­thing of my­self.”

Pen­ney will be on the methadone pro­gram for at least a year be­fore she is com­pletely weaned off the drug. She still loves her boyfriend and wants to have a fu­ture with him but knows it won’t be easy.

“He needs to get cleaned up. His ad­dic­tion is far worse than mine.”

Lost friends

The pe­tite young woman says she doesn’t go out much any­more and has lost a lot of her old friends.

“ The friends I did Oxy with dropped me pretty fast af­ter I gave it up,” she chuck­les. “ They don’t want to have any more to do with me. In fact they think I am nuts for ad­mit­ting that I was ad­dicted to it. Most of them think they can quit when­ever they want, I did too, but I found out dif­fer­ently.”

“I sel­dom go out any­more any­way,” she adds. “I never go to bars or par­ties. I’m at home most of the time with my par­ents or with my boyfriend’s par­ents. They al­ways know where I am. I have to re­build their trust in me.”

But not all her friends have de­serted her. Over the past four months she has rekin­dled friend­ships with some of the girls she hung out with when she was in high school.

“ They were shocked when they found out I was do­ing Oxy be­cause I was not a per­son who they, or any­one else, would ex­pect to get in­volved with drugs,” she says, her voice crack­ing with emo­tion. “Al­though they were very dis­ap­pointed, they ral­lied around me and are sup­port­ing me through my treat­ment. They even drove me to Par­adise for my ap­point­ment with Dr. White.”

Drug deal­ers

Mean­while Pen­ney says she is just one of hun­dreds of young peo­ple in the Con­cep­tion Bay North area ad­dicted to OxyCon­tin.

“ There’re many young peo­ple like me tak­ing Oxy and their par­ents don’t have a clue they’re do­ing it,” she says. “ Just be­cause some­one is from a good home and has a good life doesn’t mean they can’t be­come an ad­dict. In fact quite of­ten they’re the ones who are into the drugs the most, be­cause they’re the ones who can af­ford it.”

Ac­cord­ing to Pen­ney many of the drug deal­ers in the area are from af­flu­ent homes.

“Peo­ple around here would be sur­prised at who is sell­ing drugs. They also be sur­prised at who is us­ing drugs on a reg­u­lar ba­sis,” she says.

Ac­cord­ing to Pen­ney drug deal­ers in the area are a dime a dozen, but the drugs they are sell­ing are mak­ing them rich.

“An 80 mg Oxy pill will run about $80,” she said. “ They’re mak­ing a for­tune off peo­ple like me who are ad­dicts. And the prime ar­eas for sell- ing the drugs are be­hind the Trin­ity Con­cep­tion Mall, on the park­ing lot of the United Church and in by the ten­nis courts, next to the Car­bon­ear Pool. How­ever it’s no trou­ble to con­tact a dealer. I had 56 phone num­bers on my old cell phone and when I went to trans­fer my con­tacts to a new phone only four num­bers were for peo­ple who were not con­nected in some man­ner to drugs. The rest, the other 52 num­bers, were for deal­ers or peo­ple who con­nected to the deal­ers.”

Fresh start

Af­ter she quit tak­ing OxyCon­tin Pen­ney owed her deal­ers a lot of money, but has since paid them off.

“I sold my com­put­ers and gave them that money and paid the rest in dribs and drabs,” she said. “I just didn’t want them hound­ing me. I wanted a fresh start.”

That fresh start in­cludes start­ing school at a post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tion this week.

“I am so ex­cited to be start­ing school, get­ting a good trade and start­ing my life over,” says Pen­ney. “I am so grate­ful for this sec­ond chance.”

She says she takes her life and the methadone treat­ment pro­gram day by day.

“I’m stronger now and I know I am done with the oxy for­ever,” she says while toss­ing her shiny dark hair over her shoul­der.

“How­ever once an ad­dict, al­ways an ad­dict, I re­ally be­lieve that. Nev­er­the­less I’m a whole dif­fer­ent per­son now than I was four months ago. Now I have my con­science back.”

RE­COV­ER­ING - Pen­ney, a re­cov­er­ing OxyCon­tin ad­dict from Con­cep­tion Bay North, doesn’t fit the pro­file of what many be­lieve qual­i­fies as a drug user. The 110-pound ar­tic­u­late young woman was never abused, grew up in a lov­ing fam­ily and never did drugs as a teen.

METHADONE TREAT­MENT - Methadone, known as juice or meth, be­longs to the opioid fam­ily of drugs and is used to treat de­pen­dence on other drugs such as heroin, codeine, mor­phine and OxyCon­tin. When taken as pre­scribed methadone is safe, but when bought off the street and taken by some­one it is not pre­scribed for, it can be lethal.

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