As the opiate epidemic gets worse in America, we’ve seen a rise in “doctor shopping”. The term describes the phenomenon in which addicts visit multiple doctors in order to obtain prescriptions from several different doctors. Although the practice is a federal crime, many addicts find a way to get the job done so that they can get their fix.
We were lucky enough to speak with Craig, a 31-year-old construction worker from New England. Craig shared his own intensely personal story of opiate addiction and gave us an insight into his experience as a doctor shopper.
In Craig’s words, “I was lucky enough to survive a hardcore opiate addiction and make it through to the other side. If I didn’t get help, it could have ended badly for me…I know that because I saw a lot of people around me OD”.
We hope that this interview with Craig might encourage you to get addiction help for yourself or a family member. Opiate addiction is a rampant problem in America and, unfortunately, it’s all too easy for addicts to feed their cravings.
When did you start using hydrocodone?
I got a prescription for a drug called Norco after I got hurt at work. I was bent over fixing something on the ground and a stack of 2x4s fell off the roof of a house. Luckily, it wasn’t heavy enough to break my back or anything but it hurt like hell.
I thought I was fine but after a few days of complaining, my girlfriend told me I should probably go see a doctor. She told me to take a week off of work and prescribed me some pills to help me cope with the pain while I recovered. Honestly, I’ve never been a drug user so I was kind of hesitant to take them. I mean, I smoked weed when I was a kid and I’ll drink a few beers here and there but the heavier stuff was never up my alley.
How did you feel about the Norco pills once you took them?
I was shocked at how much they helped. It felt like the pain was just lifted off of me. I knew that my back wasn’t better, because whenever the meds wore off I started hurting again, but while I was on them I felt great.
That first week, I felt more relaxed than I’d ever been. I’d wake up, take the pills and spend the day watching TV while I waited for my girlfriend to come home from work. The drugs put me in such a good mood.
What happened after that?
Well, my doctor had only written me a prescription for one week’s worth of hydrocodone. It wasn’t a very high dosage, either. I think it was those 5-325 mg ones. She thought that they would get me through the week while I healed.
At the end of the week, I definitely felt a little bit better. My back didn’t hurt nearly as much as it did after I was injured. I went back to work that day though and found that I couldn’t move around as easily as I could before. Plus, it was my first day off of the Norco. I kind of missed the feeling it gave me.
I went back to the doctor the next night and told her I thought I needed more. She took a look at my back and agreed with me. The problem, though, was that I couldn’t go to work if I was on the meds. She told me that if I was taking pills, I’d have to take a leave of absence from work and collect disability or something. I was working under the table at the time so that wasn’t an option.
So what did you do?
Well, that’s when I started lying. I told her that I’d take some time off work. I explained to her that I worked under the table and I couldn’t file for workman’s compensation but I promised I wouldn’t work while I was on the meds.
She believed me. She stressed that it was easy to abuse hydrocodone and to be careful. She also told me that it could cause vertigo, make you dizzy, make your vision blurry, all of that stuff. She told me that I couldn’t be climbing on roofs and operating power tools, so I told her I wouldn’t. I got a three-month prescription for a higher dosage of Norco, 10 mg I think, and paid for out-of-pocket. At the time, I thought I’d be fine.
What happened when you went back to work?
Let’s just say it wasn’t good. I didn’t get in trouble or anything but think some people at work knew what was up. They knew I’d been out of work for an injury and opiates are kind of common in that industry. I couldn’t see myself from an outsider’s perspective so I don’t know exactly how clumsy I was, but there’s no way it went unnoticed.
As the month went on, I started feeling pretty sluggish. I couldn’t breathe as well when I was on the drug so I got tired very quickly. There were a few days I tried to go without using. By the end of the month, though, I couldn’t really get out of bed without taking the Norco. It wasn’t even back pain, either, it was just that the drug made me feel good.
When did your hydrocodone use become a problem?
Looking back at it, I should have known it was a problem the first time I took Norco before heading off to work. Like I said, though, I couldn’t see that at the time.
About a month and a half after I went back to work, I started taking more than one pill at a time. The 10 milligrams wasn’t doing the trick anymore. You’re only supposed to take 6 pills a day, but I was taking around 8 or 9.
What did your girlfriend think about you using Norco?
She didn’t think too much of it at the time. Honestly, I was pretty good at hiding it. She didn’t know how quickly I was blowing through my pills. As I started to run out of my prescription, though, I started to get anxious and agitated. I was really worried about what was going to happen once they were all gone.
At that point, I felt like I needed hydrocodone to function. I was too embarrassed to go back to the same doctor because she’d know that I blew through my prescription.
How did you end up getting more?
Well, like I said, opiates are pretty big in the construction industry. There are a lot of guys who use.
This new guy showed up at work one day and he must have spotted me from a mile away. I don’t know how. It could have been my dilated pupils or something. A lot of addicts are just good at finding other addicts, you know?
So, he approached me. I forget his exact words but he was kind of like, “What are you on?”. I hadn’t told anyone that I’d been abusing Norco so I didn’t really want to talk about it but I knew I needed more. I told him my situation.
He offered to set me up with a dealer but I told him I wasn’t into that. There was something about buying from a drug dealer that made me feel like a real addict. Then, he asked me why I don’t go to a “writer”.
What’s a writer?
A “writer” is what addicts call doctors who write prescriptions for anyone. In rehab, they’re referred to as problem prescribers. There are a few of them in every city. Where I was living, there were like five or six doctors that you knew you could get pills from.
So, this guy and I exchanged phone numbers. He texted me a few names of doctors that had a reputation for handing out prescriptions pretty easily.
And that’s when you started doctor shopping?
Yeah. I was shocked at how easy it was. I called the first doctor on the list and had an appointment that week. I was really excited because I only had a few pills left. I walked in, told the doctor my back was hurting and walked out with a three-month supply of 10-325 mg Norco pills.
Did it cross your mind that you were abusing hydrocodone at that point?
Surprisingly, no. It’s hard to explain to non-addicts, but when you’re addicted to a drug like Norco, you never feel better than when you’ve just picked up your fix. I walked out of that office feeling like I was walking on clouds. I couldn’t believe how easy it was.
And you called the other doctors on your list, too?
Yeah. I guess that’s when I really started doctor shopping…when I was seeing multiple doctors for the same prescription. Remember, I was paying for the pills out-of-pocket, with my own money. No insurance company was keeping track of how many doctors I was seeing.
Not all of the doctors prescribed Norco. At that point, I wasn’t picky. Some of them had Vicodin, others prescribed Percocet. They just explained to me that these drugs were hydrocodone and that they’d have a similar effect.
Did you continue taking the drug orally?
For a while, yes. I just popped 10 or 12 of them every day for a little while. That guy at work, the one who introduced me to doctor shopping, was the one who suggested I started snorting them.
The idea of snorting the drug never crossed my mind but boy did it make a difference. Just by crushing the pill up and taking it through my nose…it’s like a whole different drug.
When did you realize you had a problem with hydrocodone?
I’ll be honest, it took a while. I was snorting the stuff for a few months before it even crossed my mind that I might be an addict. Once I started borrowing money to pay for Norco and that other crap, though, I started to realize I was an addict. I even thought about stealing cash to get some. I was that bad off.
I was doctor shopping a few times every month. Those appointments add up.
Your girlfriend must have noticed that you had a problem by this point, right?
Oh yeah. I thought I was doing a good job hiding it but my family was worried about me. Once the money started disappearing she couldn’t lie to herself anymore. I mean, bills for doctors appointments were showing up in the mail. She wasn’t happy.
So the cost of hydrocodone…that’s what led you to start using heroin?
Yeah. That’s where it all went downhill. People don’t realize how cheap heroin is. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than Norco or Vicodin.
So, through that same guy from work, I ended up connecting with a heroin dealer. That’s how I ended up here today, but that’s a story for another time.
If you or a loved one is currently abusing Norco or another form of hydrocodone, it’s important to get help. AspenRidge Recovery can provide the support you need to get on the road to recovery.