1 / The Beginning of the Story
In the summer of 2009 in the heart of southern Ohio, the prescription pain pill epidemic was escalating. Doctors were handing out scripts for Percocet, Vicodin, Morphine, and other medicines like they were candy. People were in pain, in need of help, end of story. At least, that was the narrative many of the pharmaceutical companies were pushing on doctors. In reality, it was just the beginning of the story.
I remember that year vividly. I had a cavity in the back of my mouth pressing on an overgrown wisdom tooth. As you can imagine, the stabbing sensations I felt were a daily reminder that I had spent too many years drinking Mountain Dew. Suffice it to say, I learned my lesson and gave up the hard, sugary stuff that summer.
However, extracting a wisdom tooth and filling a cavity is not a simple matter when you’re uninsured. My wife and I had two kids at the time. I was making just ten dollars an hour as a landscape laborer on an irregular schedule. One “rainy day” was enough to set us back for the month. We couldn’t easily afford such luxuries as health insurance, so there I was, literally aching for relief until we could pay for the necessary dental work. So, I suffered through it for a while. I did my best to manage the pain, but sometimes it got so bad I couldn’t focus on my work. Intervention arrived when my dad offered to share his painkillers.
Dad wasn’t a recreational drug user, not by a long shot, but he did have cancer, a really nasty kind that gave him a lot of pain, especially during treatments. Consequently, he had nearly unlimited access to pain medication. He only took these pills when necessary, though. Dad was a beast of a man who preferred to live with his pain if he could rather than try to relieve it with chemical substances, so he was happy to share a few with me if he thought they would help.
And they did, somewhat. I’ve always had a high tolerance for medication, and tooth pain is some of the worst there is, so on my most sensitive days, I really had to pop the pills to put those nerve endings to sleep. It didn’t take long for me to realize two things: 1) too many opiates can really “bind you up” as my grandmother used to say. In other words, the constipation sucks; and 2) taking opiates feels good.
I never crushed and snorted a pill or pushed anything into my veins, so I can’t comment on the euphoric rush; however, consuming just a few pills was enough to give me a soothing feeling of underlying calm. That’s what I remember most about the experience. And to be honest, there were some days when I didn’t actually need to take them, but I did. Technically, I guess that’s enough to qualify for abuse, or at least misuse.
Fortunately, my experience with pain pills went no further than that. I eventually saved up enough cash, got my wisdom tooth yanked, and filled that nagging cavity. Problem solved. Dad quit offering me pills and I didn’t ask for anymore. Yet, I’d be lying if I said the thought never crossed my mind. That’s how much I liked the feeling. Not only did I enjoy the calming effect of opiates, but I also saw how useful they could be in dealing with anxiety and certain stressful situations.
You might be nodding your head in agreement as you read these words. I wish I could say that I didn’t know so many people whose experience with opioid use began innocently enough, like mine, but then went on to destroy their lives whereas mine simply ended. Most folks started with a legitimate prescription but then spiraled into uncontrollable substance use disorder. Some of them died from that abuse, either through overdose or other health-related complications, while many others are still trapped in the merciless cycle of addiction as we speak. Others live in recovery with a long road of suffering behind them.
Praise for The Face of Addiction
“There’s only one solid way to make change in a social problem—hear the stories of the folks involved … The Face of Addiction brings them out of the shadows in powerful ways and make this book essential reading for us all.”
—Sam Quinones, Author of Dreamland: The True Tales of Amercia’s Opiate Epdemic
“Empathetic, honest, and humanizing. Joshua Lawson’s heart-wrenching book The Face of Addiction, a collection of first-hand accounts of addiction in Appalachian Ohio, is defiant and life-affirming.”
—Jack Shuler, Author of This is Ohio: The Overdose Crisis and the Front Lines of a New America
“Rarely does the public get to hear such personal and poignantly told stories by the very people most affected by the current addiction and mental health crisis … Compassionate and inspiring, readers are left with a better understanding of these issues, and how we as a society have, in many ways, contributed to them.”
—Lisa Roberts, R.N./Public Health Nurse, Portsmouth City Health Department
“‘Those people’ have a face. In fact, they have many faces. I hope you are as impacted as I was as you take the time to read this book and gaze upon them. Because I believe you will discover that the face you’re looking at resembles your daughter, your son, your spouse, your neighbor, and perhaps even your own.”
—Andrew Wehrheim, Inventory Coordinator, The Hope Center
About the Author
Joshua Lawson is a writer who lives in southern Ohio with his wife and kids and their ever-reproducing family of cats. He loves strong coffee and good books. He has worked as an organizer, pastor, and ally to people who use drugs in central Appalachia for the past three years.