Star athlete → injury → prescription painkillers → opioid addiction → dealing drugs → homeless

Eric Adelson
Columnist

Editor’s note: The following is a first-person account of a college athlete’s spiral into opioid addiction, as told to Eric Adelson.

It was a botched play. The kid hit me in my back. I started coughing up blood.

It was my junior season in college and I played through it. I was pretty much lying to the trainers about how much pain I was in. I knew I wouldn’t be able to redshirt; I would have lost the rest of the season.

With maybe five games left, I hurt my shoulder. That’s when I got prescribed Percocet.

It was like heaven. It numbed everything. When I was on the pills, I felt like I was a step ahead on the field. Dialed in. I don’t know how to explain it. It was out-of-body.

I would eat a bunch of pills before the games to take the edge off, and more after the games because I was drained. I’d go to the training room, take a few, and then take an ice bath. I didn’t feel anything.

It wears off, and you think, ‘I need more of this.’

Within months I was an addict, and then an addict out of control – lying, selling, stealing – just to pay for my next fix. At one point I was taking 30 pills a day.

I can’t tell you many of the details of who I am, and I hope you’ll understand why. Do I regret a lot of things? Yeah. Do I wish I could change a lot of things? Yeah. But I feel like it’s important to tell my story. If it can happen to me, it can happen to freaking anybody.

I wasn’t the stereotypical opioid addict you might imagine: you know, rural background, broken home, rough childhood. No, none of that. I was a good college student from a good childhood and a suburb near a major city. I was a very good athlete. A starter on a strong Division I lacrosse team. I just outworked everybody to get there, whether it was showing up to practice early or staying after practice late.

I was the kid who was friends with every single group of kids: jocks, drama kids, goths. I liked anything social, just being around people. I never really liked being by myself. And my family? My family was so big in my life.

Those were the people I ended up preying on.

The oxycodone really hooked me. The 30 mgs. The ‘blues.’ They were readily accessible. I was getting them through the mail, buying them from locals. A lot of people around campus were hooked. I even had a connection that was selling prescriptions. All I had to do was make a phone call. They were, depending if you bought 100, about $15 a pop.

I wasn’t just using them. I started selling them, too. I think I’m the only person who ever lied to my parents about graduating on time. I did graduate on time, but I stayed in school for a fifth year because I was making so much money and I wanted the pills. I was done with sports by then; I had six figures saved up. I was fully focused on making as much money as possible and getting as f’d up as possible all the time.

Now, I know you’re thinking, ‘Why didn’t you just make yourself stop?’ The answer is, I decided to stop thousands of times. ‘I’ll stop doing them tomorrow. Tomorrow is the last day.’

Then it was tomorrow.

I knew I was hooked when my apartment got robbed. The door was kicked in and my roommate got held up at gunpoint. I had a ton of pills taken. I was so pissed off that I immediately drove three hours just to get pills. I was out of my mind. Instead of calling the cops, or thinking, ‘I need to get out of this town,’ I drove to pick up another 100 pills.

In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which are more than enough to give every American adult his or her own bottle of pills, according to the ASAM. (AP)

Eventually I went back home for six months. It got even worse. My first job was in sales at a pharmaceutical industry, if you can believe that. I was stealing bottles and bottles and bottles. If you think this was some kind of game for me, it didn’t feel like it. I remember one time I was on the road with a colleague and he had to pull over to let me throw up. I gave him some B.S. story. I was so strung out. Then the paranoia set in: ‘I’m done. I’m going to jail. I’m quitting.’

I quit the job. But I couldn’t quit the habit. I found a doctor who charged me $500 just to see him and then $250 per visit after that. I paid it. (This particular doctor ended up being arrested after prescribing more than 2 million opioid pills.)

I’m a believer that this disease does not want you dead. It wants you to be as miserable as possible, and affecting as many people as possible before you die.

The people I affected most were my family. I was living in my grandma’s house because my house was under construction. I was selling drugs out of my grandma’s house. One time I got back from somewhere and everyone in my family was all waiting in the kitchen for me. Everything was laid out all over the table. They found a safe full of money, a couple ounces of molly, a bunch of pills. Cash. And a whole garbage bag full of tinfoil. They looked so scared.

They sent me to detox that night. But I wasn’t ready. That’s the sick thing. I’ll be the first person to say how important my family is, but they were the people who received the brunt of my manipulation. I didn’t lose my self-respect, my sanity. I gave all that away.

At some point the pills ran out and the money ran out. I was supposed to go to my ex-girlfriend’s house one weekend and I couldn’t find any pills. I called up an old college buddy, and he was strung out on pills, too. I said I was coming to visit him. I went to his apartment and he tossed me these square bricks. I thought, ‘What the f are these?’ I’ll never forget what he said: ‘Dog food.’ I said, ‘What is dog food and where are my pills?!’ He said, ‘This is cheaper and stronger.’

I knew exactly where he was going. It was heroin. I told him, ‘No way.’ I almost beat his ass. I was so strung out and finally detoxing. I left his house. I almost made it to my ex-girlfriend’s. I turned around and went back to his house. I tried it. I was high all weekend.

I had always thought, ‘If you do heroin, you’re crazy. That’s below me.’ And the heroin made me a little more dopey, no pun intended. The pills felt cleaner, almost gave you a pep in your step. For a while, I bounced back and forth.

I took another step down when a drug test at a new job found a trace of THC in my system. That led to a spiral of depression. I was working dead-end jobs, more concerned about feeding my habit than anything. Couple months after that, I went back to my to friend. I had been sniffing dope for a month, maybe two. He was shooting dope at this point.

He said, ‘Dude, you’re just wasting it. You’re sniffing five bags. Put one in the shooter, it’s more intense.’

I didn’t resist. I said, ‘Do you have a clean pin? Do me up.’

It only becomes a straight shot downhill from there. Robbing, cheating, selling guns. I’m a white kid from middle-class suburbia doing all this. This disease does not discriminate.

I don’t know what my bottom was. There were multiple times where I woke up in a jail cell. I’ve been homeless, sleeping behind a church. I thought it would never get worse. It always got worse. I overdosed five times.

You don’t understand: It quickly became not fun. In the beginning it was fun. It quickly became a full-time job, and you’re working overtime, and you get no benefits and no overtime pay. It’s so f’d up to say this, but I wasn’t out there shooting dope to get high. I was shooting dope to get annihilated.

Maybe the turning point came when I went with my family to my cousin’s wedding in Texas. I knew I was going to be super dope-sick without the drugs. I brought some suboxone (which is used to treat opioid addiction). So we went to this cowboy store. Pulling into the strip mall, I saw some homeless dude sitting underneath a bridge. I told my family, ‘I’m going to smoke a cigarette.’ I sprinted across the street to the homeless guy: ‘Yo, what’s up? Where’s the dope at?’ He thought I was a cop. I rolled up my sleeve and showed my track marks. He said, ‘It’s two miles up the street.’ I said, ‘Dude, let’s go. I’ll throw you some money.’ So me and this dude hiked it. We get to a gas station and it was skid row. Open market. Went up to some white kid and got some tinfoil. I told him I’d give him $5 for a clean pin.

When I got back, my family was gone. They left a note. I went to the hotel and my sisters were hysterical. My dad wanted to choke-slam me. I told them I had to go to CVS to get cigarettes. No one believed anything I said. No one said a word to me. My sister told me to roll up my sleeves. I said no. She started crying.

It was my sister who took me to St. Christopher’s. It’s in upstate New York, about an hour from Manhattan. It’s very structured. Wake up, breakfast at 8:30. 150 guys, all up, all standing on line. No leaning on the wall. No talking. Everyone with a collared shirt and long pants. Go in and eat breakfast. Then go into your small group and talk.

Everyone had a job – working kitchen, or laundry, or on the grounds taking care of the facility. It gave you a little bit of purpose. It’s your home and you’re taking care of your home. But that’s sometimes a really big task. You’re broken when you get there.

When we start feeling our feelings, when all your feelings are coming back to you, a lot of people want to bounce and use drugs. You have a lot of guys who get dope-sick. It’s up to the guys to say, ‘We’ll help you out. We’ll bring water to your room, put a pail by your bed. Just don’t leave.’ You don’t know how many times I was part of those conversations. People wanted to leave and we would talk them into staying.

I wanted to leave every single day.

Then, by the end, I didn’t want to leave. I was f’ing scared to go into the real world.

Am I surprised to be alive? I think about that on a daily basis. Multiple times a day. ‘Wow, why am I still here?’ Just from my hometown I’ve had 15 kids who have died from an overdose. I did have a roommate who OD’d and died about six months ago. He started taking pills after college. He reached out to me needing some help. Then one day he thought he could use one last time. His parents had to break down his bedroom door.

I live in a small apartment now. I have a job. I can’t tell you that I’ll never do anything again. I can just tell you that for today.

I don’t know what that day was, or that turning point, where I became free of it. But I can tell you the feeling is amazing. Words do no justice.

I am looking forward to visiting a lacrosse camp this summer. The counselor asked me to come and speak about being aware of the opioid situation. If I can help one kid with my story – it’s so cheesy but it’s the truth – if I can deter them, then I feel like I went through everything for a purpose.

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