, Salem, MA


April 29, 2014

Watson: An addict asks for less stigma

Last week’s column described the drug-saturated life of an addict who started inhaling glue vapors regularly at the age of 13 and rapidly moved on to marijuana, cocaine, crack and heroin. He managed only a few short intervals of sobriety over the course of 48 years.

At 61, while smashed and vomiting one night, his esophagus ruptured and he barely survived. He had no choice but to join a treatment program and stay with it. Today, he is 64 and has been clean for 32 months, and will probably stay that way.

Recently I spoke with another addict, Bill, whose story is much different. He led a normal, addiction-free life until the age of 36.

Bill grew up in an affluent, solidly conventional family in a desirable suburb of Boston. He had three siblings, was an excellent student and athlete, and his happily married parents loved their children.

He attended elite colleges, receiving a bachelor’s, and a master’s in economics. Upon graduation he landed an outstanding job with a major Boston corporation and in 10 years advanced quite far into its executive leadership. About nine years ago he moved to another blue-chip corporation and has been there since as a well-regarded senior executive. He is 48 today.

His troubles began in 2003 when he was 36. He went into the hospital for a major operation to correct a life-threatening condition. The operation lasted eight hours. Things did not go smoothly and he suffered many serious complications. He spent 10 days in intensive care and then three more months in the hospital.

For the entire stay, he was on either a morphine drip or other uninterrupted, opiate painkillers. After release from the hospital, he was given prescription painkillers for eight more months.

Finally, he was physically healed, so the doctors halted his medications. The problem was, after 11 months on morphine, Darvon, Dilaudid, Percocet, Vicodin, and others, he had inadvertently become a drug addict. His withdrawal symptoms and cravings were so unbearable that he immediately sought more prescription opiates. He had plenty of money, and a young friend got him the drugs.

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