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Prescription Drug Abuse: How I Got Addicted to Painkillers

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FITNESS investigates the rise in prescription-painkiller abuse and why so many women are getting hooked.

They Came from My Doctor, How Bad Could They Be?

"I felt like I was a slave to these pills, but I had to take them to keep my body going." Lisa M., a 42-year-old mother of two girls from a suburban town in Washington, speaks softly, as if still trying to comprehend the events that so catastrophically derailed her life. Lisa had been healthy, active, and outgoing, with a great husband and a beautiful house -- the kind of woman you'd hear about and feel a twinge of envy. But seemingly overnight, all of that changed.

In June 2005, Lisa, a petite, super-fit gym regular and fitness instructor, went to the doctor after holding in a sneeze and then feeling an immediate, crushing pain in her chest. "She told me I had a cracked sternum -- a freak injury," Lisa says. Her doctor prescribed rest and a generous supply of the painkiller Vicodin. Lisa had taken the medication before for dental work and after giving birth, and she'd never had any side effects.

And really, there didn't appear to be any negative side effects this time either. In fact, just the opposite. Not only did the pain disappear minutes after she swallowed the pills, but she felt relaxed and energetic, like she wanted to take more. So she did. "They made me feel like Superwoman," she recalls. "I had no pain, and tons of energy."

Lisa finished the first bottle of pills in a month, then went back to her doctor, who refilled the prescription when she said she was still sore. She finished the next bottle even faster and got another, each time telling her doctor -- who she says never challenged her requests -- that her injury continued to hurt. Did it? That was hard to say: Lisa was never off the medication long enough to find out. "I convinced myself that I needed Vicodin for the pain, but I'd really stopped thinking about whether my sternum had healed," she admits. "All I knew was that the pills made me euphoric, and if they came from my doctor's office, how bad could they be?"

Eleven months after her injury, her physician switched practices, leaving Lisa without a lifeline for refills. She started buying pills from Internet pharmacies, where she could get the drugs without showing the requisite MD's prescription.

The strange thing was, the high she got from the meds was wearing off faster. So she popped more pills; soon, she was taking 150 milligrams a day, three times the maximum prescribed amount, just to fend off withdrawal. A year after the initial injury, Lisa's days were dominated by her obsession with staying high -- and hiding it from her family. "I was so stressed," she says. "I didn't know what to do. The only way I felt I could handle the situation was to take more drugs."

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vjohnson23 wrote:

I just submitted a comment looking for advice on overuse of OTC medication. I didn't realize what the report the addiction button was until after I hit it. I was looking for advice only. Thanks

10/26/2009 11:41:52 AM Report Abuse
vjohnson23 wrote:

I read with interest your article on OTC Pain Medication and recognized myself. Do you have information out there on how to fix/stop that type of addiction?

10/26/2009 11:39:24 AM Report Abuse

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