Addicted to Oxycontin - A Special Series
Tiffany Thompson for local2 sault ste. marie
February 23rd, 2012 at 12:44pm
“It was a drug I didn’t really think about– I did it – because that’s all I did for years. Me at age 20 is like a suicide note carved in stone.”
Derek Lethbridge is a former Oxycontin addict from Sault Ste. Marie. He came from an average family. He played guitar and piano, liked to work out, and has fond memories of Christmases together and camping on St. Joe’s Island. His parents were loving but strict. They split when he was three and his dad left town. He recalls prolonged mental, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of a relative. Seeing his abuser later, “I blacked out and couldn’t be restrained by a group of people. To try and imagine what type of damage he caused in a ripple effect...it’s a numerical nightmare”. As he grew older, trust could never gain a foothold in his life.
By 19, he was suffering from anxiety, depression and PTSD: “no will to live, just money and drugs and hopes to die. You take so many risks you lose count at a million”. Drugs were a welcome reprieve from emotion. “ We can pretend things don’t hurt until the point they don’t hurt, like a lie you had all your life that is the truth now in your head and you don’t even know it.”
In 2005, he tried an 80 mg Oxy tablet. He loved it. For 5 years he wrestled with this seemingly perfect drug. “Oxy makes you think better, do art better, work better…it’s like you at your absolute best mood and attitude. You can control how much you’re doing, you can still function”.
By the time he was 23, he was using on a regular basis. “When I would try and quit I would get ill and would sell everything I owned and my microwave and then your microwave. I knew I was f*****.” The economics of the situation are a cruel mistress to the end user; “When we started the 80 mg pills were $15-20. Now in the Sault they average being $80-90 per 80 mg.” He had fallen into running and selling drugs in the Sault on an impressive scale. He was arrested more times than he can recount. Stealing, dealing and lying are endemic to prolonged use for many.
The crippling need to feed the addiction inevitably eroded his moral sensibilities. “It’s bad. A guy will have pills and meet a girl. The girl gets her pill and now she’s not (dope) sick, she likes this. There’s money around so they hang out. She starts to get sick and buddy says ‘Yeah. I’ll be grabbing more soon. Kisses her and f**** her. She’s not going to say no if she wants more crack or a pill. So the guy didn’t have to feel like he’s lowering his morals, and neither did the girl, see? He didn’t pay for sex and she didn’t have sex with him for drugs. It just ‘worked itself out.’ I have done things that were below my morality level. You get high to ignore the little voice in your head. You get higher to make sure the little voice stays quiet and you do what you got to do to keep feeling okay in the drug world. If I was a woman, I would have probably sold my body I can honestly say.”
Getting Oxy was not always easy, but with the laser focus of an addict it was far from impossible. “There are cancer patients selling scripts. There are overseas pharmacies I hear about, stuff coming in by the case. There are crooked pharmacies and crooked doctors. I’d do whatever I could afford. If I had 300 bucks one day I’d smash a bunch of Oxys and coke and save enough for the next job to get money so I wouldn’t always be sick and breaking the law to get more. If you can’t get them, you find a way until you can get them. You’ll yell at your spouse, she calls and lies to get money, you “borrow” things and pawn them knowing that you’re getting cash tomorrow you can go buy it back out and put it back without anyone noticing.”
Or outright steal. Lethbridge maintains that needing money for opiates is one of the main reasons for break and enters in Sault Ste. Marie. “They’re not doing these jobs (break & enters, or ‘beats’) because they need money for booze or weed. Maybe for coke but mostly for dope sickness. It’s more like this: 3 guys have a hot spot where they do their drugs. And one car. To do a job, one guy kicks in the door while the other’s watching. They get their sh**, they drive it to the dealer or people that want discount flatscreens, etc. Now for a $1000 TV they got a pill and a half gram of blow to smash with their pill. This happens all day: rob, sell, buy. So now people are losing their possessions, not feeling safe in their homes, lives are being destroyed over a single pill.”
Who benefits? “It’s the small percentage of dealers that aren’t addicts. They make ungodly amounts of money and the assets alone would be enough to own a store in another city to wash the goods… or the internet, right? Some people are rich from opiates, but it’s mostly people just feeding their addictions. The people that lose the most are the addicts and their families.” It is a pernicious problem, particularly in Sault Ste. Marie. “I think it’s that, it’s worse, because there’s the middle class people that hide it the best, they have their own circles. Like people or public figures that can’t be in the normal scene.”
As of next week, Oxycontin will be taken off of the Ontario Drug Benefit formulary. Its successor, OxyNeo will only be available through the Exceptional Access Program and subject to much tighter controls. Ameliorating Oxycontin abuse by removing it from the list of funded drugs has been lauded as a step forward, but it may aggravate the problem before it gets better. For those addicted who get pills through the black market, the curtailed supply will simply drive up demand. In light of this, property theft and increased use of more readily available street drugs is inevitable. The inflated street price of Oxy can make people turn to morphine which is half the price. With morphine, “you’ve got to shoot it (inject) or it’s like wasting it. You could put a million morphine in front of me and if I didn’t have a needle it would be as if nothing was there. They might as well be sugar pills.” Injection drug use is the leading contributor to the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C in Algoma.
Lethbridge, now 28, faces the crippling daily consequences of years ravaged by drug abuse. Over the course of his short life, he estimates he has done the equivalent of $500,000-1,000,000 (street value) worth of drugs. Now to stay clean, he has switched the illegal for the legal: prescriptions of Methadone, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications.
“It helps with my cravings, it helps with the pain in my body I get from doing too much drugs for a decade. I’ll never have more normal feeling completely with my own endorphins. And I take it because I look at my past and I want to secure my future.
He had to relocate to get away from his old life in the Sault. He has been through detox, cut off relationships, changed friends and moved to Toronto. Things are lonely and it is difficult to be away from his family but there are too many triggers back home. He has to tread carefully if he wants his life to improve - the price is too high. “I think even heaven isn’t as strong as that hit. I can say goodbye to what I’ve accomplished and will have to start over. I want a wife and a child or two. Because I want that, then the decision is easy. Unless I let myself forget for one second why I don’t do it.”
He is frustrated with the lack of streamlined and readily accessible services in the Sault. “In the Sault I had to wait months for Methadone… months. You’d be long in jail or dead waiting for the f****** program. Thank God for Suboxone treatment you can get on within 4 days or so. The Sault has some services, but I don’t know, why can’t there be one main place? You go there for Methadone, you go for Suboxone, you go for meetings, counseling, and meet clean people.” The challenges with Oxy in Sault Ste. Marie mirror those throughout the country. Getting help for addicts while protecting those who require the drug for treatment can be a precarious balance.
Lethbridge’s addiction has destroyed huge swaths of his life and the lives of his family members. “They watch my life be a horrific ongoing movie scene. They know when I’m clean it’s hard and I’m worn out and lonely. They know when I seem happy and social that I’m using”.
He is optimistic. His clothing company, Hood Nation, is growing. He has a relatively stable (if uneventful) life. He’s getting ongoing medical support. “It’s hard but it gets easier. I think yeah, it does in time. I will believe in whatever life gives me - every breath and every day - a blessing.”
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