I was thirteen-years-old the first time I ever saw my mother crush up an Oxycontin and snort it on the dresser in front of me. It wasn’t the first time she had done it. It was just the first time she had done it in front of me. The first time she no longer cared that her daughter was in the room. Normally she just swallowed them. But like so many people who get addicted to prescription drugs, it escalated to snorting. Then eventually to heroin.

I can’t place all the blame on the pharmaceutical industry. Truth be told, my family was pretty much ruined anyway. Some people are just inherently bad. Even without all the drugs, I know my family was never a very good one. But the drugs sure didn’t help, and they only made things for difficult for my siblings and me.

My mother, who I affectionately refer to as Joanna, has been addicted to Xanax since before I was born. She took them throughout her pregnancy with me (and my brothers). She took them excessively. She even made my grandmother fake a panic disorder to get a prescriptions for Xanax, then she took my grandmother’s prescription. And then my grandmother developed a dependence. Probably because she also developed a real panic disorder. Living with your violent, drug addicted daughter and taking care of her three kids will do that to you.

I know that my mother has always used prescription pills recreationally. I know this because since I was a kid, she would repeatedly tell me something that as an adult I’ve found to be very true:

“Doctors are nothing but glorified drug dealers, Danielle.”

Of course, not all doctors. There are a lot of really good doctors out there. But in my experience, most of them want to write you a prescription, and write you off.

At some point, I’m not entirely sure when, my mother’s Xanax use expanded to pain killers. Namely Vicodin and Percocet. She took them like candy. There was never a day I didn’t see my mother downing an inordinate amount of pills. She obtained them by doing what she refers to as “doctor shopping.” This is the simple (and apparently very easy to get away with) act of going to several doctors at one time and having them prescribe you a variety of drugs. Basically as many as you want. She still doctor shops to this day, and not once has she gotten in trouble for it. More disconcerting, neither have any of her doctors.

I’m not entirely innocent in this story. Joanna gave me my first Xanax when I was three, and regularly thereafter. She gave me Xanax after I broke up with my first boyfriend. She gave me pain killers whenever I wanted to get high in high school. By the time I was sixteen, I’d overdosed twice. Once from mixing booze with pills. Instead of telling the doctors where I got the drugs or the fact that she’d been giving them to me since I was a kid, she told them I was trying to kill myself. They locked me in the psych ward for a week (which was honestly one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced) and tried to pump me full of Prozac. Well, technically they did. They said I wouldn’t be released if I didn’t take it. So I took it. And immediately stopped when I was discharged. I’ve never taken a prescription pill since.

The rest of my family wasn’t so lucky.

Joanna, her boyfriend and my little brother moved about an hour away when I was 17. Her drug addiction got worse. What was once Vicodin and Percocet has escalated to Oxycontin, and a lot of it. Her boyfriend was addicted too (and eventually died of a drug overdose). After a few years, it got so bad that she was kicked out of all the places she rented. She eventually moved back into the house I grew up in. She let other drugs addicts stay there too. Until it got condemned by the county.

After it was condmened, I pried open the boarded back door and went inside. The walls were torn down. The ceiling was caving in. All of the appliances were sold. The copper was torn out, to be sold. There were syringes everywhere. I had to be careful not to step on any.

She was homeless.

By this point, my little brother was living with my dad. He convinced my dad to let her move in with them. My dad, who had not spoken to or spent more than five minutes around Joanna for many, many years, was now allowing her to move in with him. I knew that things would go downhill quickly once that happened.

My dad, who had been clean for 11 years (since having two massive strokes that he managed to recover from) with the exception of using pain killers for his severe back and knee problems, reignited his addiction. Except this time it wasn’t to booze or cocaine, it was to prescription drugs. They’re legal after all. And they’re easy to get.

Shortly after that, my little brother, who had smoked weed for as long as I can remember, was clearly high on something other than weed. We were never close, but after stopping by one day – I knew he’d started to use Oxycontin too. With an unlimited source of legal drugs covered by insurance, who needs street drugs?

In 2010, my oldest brother’s best friend, Marcus, was shot and killed. He was friends with my brother before I was even born. He was always at our house, he basically lived with us growing up. He was my roommate after Joanna left when I was in high school. He was one of my closest friends. My entire family was at the funeral, including my grandmother. It was devastating to everyone who knew him. He was young, he was kind, he was hilarious. He had started a new life as a barber. Even now, it hurts to think about his death.

After that, I knew things would only get worse.

My older brother then developed an addiction as well. I’m not going to say any more than that, because I have great respect for my older brother. I don’t know anyone who has had a tougher upbringing than him. When I think I had it bad, I simply have to think about my older brother. Despite this, despite the devastating death of his best friend – he is now clean and doing very well.

By sharing this story, I’m not absolving my family of responsibility. I know that they made choices. I know that drugs are a choice. But I want to bring light to the fact that prescription drug use is rampant, and they’re way to easy to obtain. I’m sharing this story because I want to raise awareness about this very prominent, very serious issue that is largely ignored.

Prescription drugs now kill more people than street drugs. Everyday in the US, 100 people die from prescription drugs. 360,000 people a year. Consider that alcohol related deaths only consumed the lives of 88,000 people – in a four year span. Prescription drugs now kill more people than heroin and cocaine combined. And pharmaceutical companies not only do nothing to prevent this, they profit from it. Every time a new prescription drug addict is created, they make money.

Pharmaceutical industries are the real drug dealers and they’re the best drug dealers. They make multiple billions of dollars every year, and they’re approaching the trillions. They kill people everyday, and the government does nothing about it. Their drugs are now more dangerous than alcohol, cocaine, heroin and crystal meth – and they’re immune to consequences. Tell me, what drug dealer in history has made billions, killed thousands, is protected by the government and can get away with whatever they want?

If you want to talk about a ruthless gang of thugs, killing people and selling drugs for their own profit – look no further than pharmaceutical executives. The biggest gangsters in history. They’re the suppliers, and doctors are the dealers. It’s the same setup drug operations have. Except pharmaceutical companies are smarter – they’ve found a way to make it legal.


  1. Absolutely heartbreaking. This country/world is an absolute disaster intent on destroying itself by any means including drugs, food that no longer even resembles actual food……ugh

  2. Tamika Massey Reply

    Thank you so much for your frank, heartfelt experience. I was a social worker for about a dozen years and it is like hitting your head against a brick wall trying to get anyone to listen to you explain that pharmaceutical drugs aren’t a magic bullet. – Or that they are rapidly becoming ‘the drug of choice.’ Children in foster care are regularly doled out psychotropic medications to make them more pliable and compliant – with NO research in to how this effects their brains. They are given drugs that aren’t even covered by FDA guidelines. And this is not a socio-economic issue, more and more teens and young adults, are finding their way to pharmaceutical drugs. You don’t have to worry about the quality of the drug, you don’t have to cruise dangerous neighbourhoods looking for it, and it’s a ‘legitimate’ high, right? In fact, statistics and anecdotal experiences (do not underestimate the power of anecdotal information, especially when dealing with ‘subcultures’) will tell one that the incidences of pharmaceutical drug abuse is moving to be more of a middle and upper middle class issue. And when people can’t get the high they need from pharmaceutical drugs, or can’t find any, they will turn to heroin. It is something people in my profession see over and over again – with tragic, devastating consequences. About four years ago I had my own emotional breakdown. I was lucky enough to have an amazing therapist who saw that I was suicidal, although through my haze of major depression I couldn’t see it myself. I was placed on disability and given medication. BUT the first thing my therapist, doctor, and I did was devise a plan that was more integrated. We looked at vitamins, supplements, herbs, diet, therapy (at first I didn’t even have words and we did a lot of art therapy), exercise, a social support system, journalling/drawing, being in nature, whatever felt soothing. I am still on medication, yes, I will admit it, but I also know that without medication I wouldn’t be here. Medication is a small part of my wellness routine. I get jokes about ‘being on the good stuff’ (like Xanex) and I have had a lot of flack for being ‘on meds’ but I know this is not forever. I know this is something that is helping me in the short term while everything else I do is for the long term. I am also lucky that I am not genetically predisposed to addiction. Pharmaceutical drugs do have a place in wellness but in my opinion I they are a last resort and should at least be part of a far boarder integrated wellness plan.

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