The first time Michael took a prescription pain killer it wasn’t because he was in pain. The prescription didn’t come from his doctor.
“The first time I took a Percocet I was in high school,” said Michael. “I was just at a party with a bunch of people, I got offered one, and that was it.”
That was the start of a spiral into years of addiction to pain killers and what eventually led him to a group called ‘My Bottom Line.’ Once a month, a group that usually consists of about 25-40 people meets in Southington to talk about successes, survival, and heartbreak. They come from all different walks of life. What binds them is addiction. Some have loved ones who are addicts and some, like Michael, are addicts themselves.
“It takes time to get to that point,” said Michael. “I didn’t decide one day that I wanted to be addicted to pain killers. It just happened.”
He says his pill use was occasional and recreational in high school. Soon after graduating, it became daily. It got to the point where Michael says he was taking four or more pills a day. His mother had no idea.
“I was in such lala land, such denial about anything,” said Joanne.
She never knew until her son was in his twenties and several years into his addiction. It was a far cry from their quiet suburban life.
“It was awful. It was terrible,” said Joanne. “It was like am I going to see him again, is he going to kill himself, is he going to overdose? Where is he going to live? Where is he going to get his next meal?”
‘My Bottom Line’ deals with addiction to opiates which can range from prescription pain killers to heroin. It was started by Mary Marcuccio. She knows what these families suffer through.
“My son is a drug addict,” said Marcuccio. “Seven years ago I woke up and said I can’t do this anymore.”
This group is Marcuccio’s way of reaching out to other families to help them deal with the addict in their lives. On the night we attended a meeting, Lt. Kenneth Cain with the Statewide Narcotics Task Force dropped in to talk about what law enforcement sees on the streets. Lt. Cain says whether its prescription drugs or heroin, the level of use and abuse is rising, and what can seem like a harmless pill can easily lead to addiction.
“Heroin dealers target people that they know have these opiate addiction to pills because they know if I just get them addicted to heroin, I have a customer for life,” said Cain.
Cain says a prescription opiate on the street can cost anywhere from $30-$80 per pill depending on the strength. A bag of heroin is just $5-$12. He says when pill addicts run low on money, they often to heroin. It’s a bigger high with unpredictable and often deadly results.
Recently authorities in CT have seen the introduction of heroin laced with the powerful pain killer fentanyl. Thousands of bags of the mix were seized during busts in Hartford last month, and overdose deaths in CT are being tied to the lethal combination - among them a 14-year-old girl in Windsor Locks.
According to the State Medical Examiner 355 people died from drug overdoses in 2012. In 2013 that number jumped to 490. A majority of those deaths involved some sort of opiate. More people died from overdoses than on the state’s roads and highways. Lt. Cain says because addiction to opiates starts most often starts with prescription pills it’s more difficult to fight.
“We’re already behind the 8 ball so to speak because they’re legal,” said Cain.
Since completing a drug rehab program more than five years ago Michael has gone back to school, found a career, and found a life without pills. He realizes what could have been is a far cry from the life he has managed to create for himself.
“I was selling drugs,” said Michael. “I could be in jail right now. I could have crossed the wrong person. I could be dead right now.”
Michael says what saved his life was his mother’s decision to cut him off until he was ready to help himself.
“I refused to take his phone calls. I refused to have any contact with him until he agreed to go to rehab, and it killed me. Every single time I would hang up with him I would cry,” said Joanne.
Five years later and five years in recovery, Michael and his mother attend these meetings hoping their struggle will help in someone else’s survival.
“I just try to focus on what’s going on now and the good things I have in my life now, and I go from there.”