Chasing that high
Recovering drug addict shares heart wrenching story
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.