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Local Recovering Drug Addict Hopes For New Life

Illicit prescription drug abuse is on the rise. Police say demand for the drugs is up; treatment centers are seeing more and more addicts. Some say Franklin County has become a hub for illegal prescription drug trade. In the second story of a three-part series, WOSU talks to a man who once faced death from prescription pills and now hopes for new life through recovery.

"I've tried to, you know, quit myself. And I realize it's impossible, you'll, you'll die. There's nothing you can do," Brian said.

That's how difficult it was for him to put down the drugs. Brian's 29 years old, and was completing more than a month of in-patient treatment at Maryhaven. Now he faces what likely will be a year-long, uphill battle of out-patient therapy.

WOSU has agreed only to use Brian's first name.

"I never imagined the things that have happened would ever happen to me. I came from being a great athlete, statewide known, you know, and prom king, you know, everything was great. It just tore me up. I lost everything," he said.

It all started about ten years ago. One week after high school graduation, Brian got hurt at work. He ended up in the hospital connected to a morphine drip.

"I actually fell in love. It became my best friend. That feeling, you just felt amazing and nothing bothered you inside or outside," Brian said.

Like many people after surgery, Brian left the hospital with pain killers in hand - Percocet in his case. And refills, he said, were easy to get.

About a year later, Brian said he knew he wasn't using the drugs just for physical pain anymore. They made him, in his words, "a chameleon."

"I could go into any situation, be around any group of people, and walk right in and be the top person in the group. It was like a blanket of protection for me. I felt safe. I wasn't insecure. I didn't have any anxiety," he said.

Several years of using the drugs for help in social settings turned into a full-blown addiction to synthetic opioids - painkillers which basically are manmade heroin. Brian also was taking other prescription drugs like Xanax - often used to treat anxiety.

He was physically and emotionally hooked. Each day, Brian said, was about feeding the addiction cycle, feeding what he calls a "big monster." Responsibilities fell by the wayside.

"It come down to paying payments or something to get me up the next day to go to work because I couldn't function. You just, you feel horrible. It's mentally, you're an emotional wreck. And you're sick. Like the flu. Physically ill. And I found myself spending paychecks to get me through a week to go to work. You know, so you're putting all your money away just to get to work to do it again to put all your money away again. So your bills, your family, everything have just deteriorates," Brian recalled.

For years, Brian was able to hide his addiction from his family. He made good money managing night clubs and bartending - so he always had the cash on hand to buy the expensive pills. But after the birth of his son, Brian left the nightlife business and a good salary. And his life began a quick downward spiral.

"You know, eventually your pills and your money run out. You know, and you're not out buying pills anymore, you're trying to steal them, or trying to steal stuff to get money to get what you want. And it's not always there," he said.

But there's a cheaper alternative that is available. And at age 27, Brian discovered it.

"You know, I remember one day a guy told me, he said, you know, this is a lot cheaper if you don't mind, you know, using your arm or whatever.' So it's something I swore I'd never do, but I was that sick, you know. You know, the promise you're going to feel better, you're going to feel better' you immediately, it doesn't matter what it is, you'll try it. You know, and that's what happened. So I ended up turning to heroin. And that's the, that's the big one," he remembered.

After about two years of abusing heroin and Xanax, Brian finally decided he'd had enough. He moved in with his mom. He had lost everything...the relationship with his son's mother, his son. Brian said he went through detox on his own...which was a living hell. "I went into some hallucinations. My brain was just ready to shut down, you know. I was afraid to be alone. And it's the scariest thing you can ever imagine going through. You think you're going to die," he said.

And Brian could have. The combination of pills he was taking easily could have killed him. The hard mixture of opiates and Xanax could have stopped his breathing.

Unfortunately, Brian's experience is common. Most patients at Maryhaven have eerily similar stories. More than half of all Maryhaven patients with a drug problem started out taking prescription pills. Paul Coleman is the facility's president.

"These prescription drugs in 80 - 90 percent of the cases of our patients here at Maryhaven are synthetic opiates," Coleman said.

Between 2002 and 2008, Coleman says Maryhaven saw a 78 percent increase in the number of patients being treated for opioid abuse.

So who's to blame for the nation's drug problem? Coleman said the fault lies in many places: with the physicians who go beyond the bounds of prescribing pills for pain relief; the drug dealers who push the pills; and the addicts who use them.

Coleman refers to pharmacology as a Faustian Bargain, in short, a deal with the devil. And he gave this stern warning.

"Anyone using prescription opiates should be very, very aware that, although the benefit can be great, they need to be very careful that they do not start overusing and become addicted," Coleman warned.

Brian did become addicted. But he's working on it, taking baby steps, just like the son he rarely gets to see - something he hopes will change as his sobriety grows. Maryhaven, he said, will play a large role in it.

"In a way, it's like that blanket I was telling you about, but when you come in here it's a different blanket, but it does the same effect. It makes you feel a lot better. It tells you there's hope," Brian said.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at what local leaders are doing to combat the prescription drug problem that touches every race and socio-economic group.