As many as 1.8 million American women are secretly addicted to painkillers. Kerri Raccuglia-Spadow was one of them. But she fought her way back, for her family.
I lay on the couch, my head pounding like a jackhammer in my ears. Make it stop! I wept.
Take a pill, a voice inside whispered.
No! I resisted. I can’t!
But my body fought back, sending daggers of pain.
Just one. My shattered spirit gave in. But even as I reached for the bottle, I knew one would never be enough.
A busy single mom and hair salon owner, I was used to hectic days and long hours. So when my shoulder started aching, I popped over-the-counter remedies. But they didn’t help.
An orthopedist diagnosed a pinched nerve.”Take these,” he said, writing a prescription for the painkiller Lortab.
The next morning, “Ow!” I winced in the salon as I raised my arms to cut a client’s hair. I popped a pain pill. A short time later, the pain ebbed away, and a warm feeling radiated from my head to my toes.
Two pills a day kept me pain-free – and riding a wave of euphoria. Like Wonder Woman, I felt invincible. After a long day on my feet, I’d dance around the kitchen, making dinner while helping my daughter, Renee, nine, with her homework.
But within a month, I needed three, then four, five, even six a day to stop the shoulder pain and the headaches that I’d developed.
“Be careful,” my mother warned. “You’ll get addicted.”
My doctor agreed, refusing to renew the prescription. I need the pills so I can work! I thought. Who’ll pay the bills?
Desperate for relief, I went from one doctor to another. They couldn’t agree on what was wrong with me – bulging vertebrae, migraines, repetitive-stress injury – but they all gave me painkillers.
Within a year, I needed so many pills to quell the pain that I often ran out. “It’s too soon to refill your prescription,” the pharmacist would insist.
I’m in pain! I pleaded. I never meant for it to get out of control, but I sank lower than I ever imagined possible. Desperate for relief, I started buying painkillers from anyone who would sell them to me.
Week after week, I floated through a painless haze. Soon I was spending $900 a month on painkillers. To get the money, I took on more clients, worked longer hours.
“Mom, we don’t do fun things anymore,” Renee told me.
Looking into Renee’s eyes, I saw who I’d become. I’m a drug addict! I cried. I’m a terrible mother!
I resolved to quit – cold turkey. But now, after three days without medication, I writhed on the couch while Renee was at school. Mind-numbing pain stabbed at my head, neck and shoulders.
If I’d had a gun, I would have put it to my head and ended my misery. Instead, I gave in and took one tablet. Then another. Slowly the pain faded.
Soon, I was up to 15 painkillers a day. One day, when I ran out, I was on the porch so Renee wouldn’t hear, “Do you have any painkillers?” I called every supplier I knew.
It was cold outside, but I was sweating. My hands shook. Glimpsing my reflection in the window, I was horrified by the wild look in my eyes. I’m begging for drugs like a junkie! I realized.
I called my mother.
“It’s the pills,” I sobbed. “I can’t fight this anymore!”
She contacted the Waismann Institute in California, a treatment center that pioneered a rapid detoxification program. Instead of weeks away from Renee and work, I’d be placed under anesthesia and given an IV of drugs that would cleanse my system of the narcotics, sparing me the symptoms of withdrawal.
“I either go there or I die,” I told Mom.
At the center, after a medical exam, I was placed under anesthesia.
Please let this work! I prayed as I drifted off.
Four hours later, I woke up feeling weak. Would I go into withdrawal?
I waited for the headaches and chills I’d gotten when I didn’t take the pills. Amazingly, they never came.
In counseling sessions, I learned that I needed to manage my pain without drugs. To combat any lingering cravings, I was given the medication Revia, an opiate blocker that I’d have to take once a day for a year.
I’m cured! I rejoiced when I went home four days later. When pain flared in my shoulder, instead of reaching for a pill, I went for a massage. Cutting back at work helped, too, buy alleviating stress.
But the best feeling came when Renee, now 12, and I would go bike riding and she’d laugh, “This is fun!”
Today I’m drug-free and grateful for my second chance. I know how lucky I am to have beaten addiction. Now I get a lift from the sun on my shoulders, from my daughter’s smile. I feel totally alive and happy. And no drug could do that!