Two months ago I had a party a few weeks after a minor surgery. I’ll admit my hangover was a doozy, so I decided to take one of my leftover painkillers from the operation. I had hardly taken any afterward since I generally hate the way they make me feel so I knew I had plenty – probably about 12 or so.
When I looked in the bottle, there were only two left. I live alone (very happily divorced, thank you!). I started thinking about who was at the party and my very close friend “Becky” because she has been acting pretty strange over the last year.
I didn’t want to accuse her if I wasn’t sure so last week I decided to do a test: I filled the painkiller bottle with 10 of another medication (anti-depressants) and invited her over to have a glass of wine. Sure enough, after she left there were only 5 in the bottle.
What do I do? She is married with kids but her youngest is off to college this year, FYI.
-Q in the Midwest
Dear Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman:
Before you proceed with reading the remainder of this blog, please pick up your phone and tell your friend exactly what you did. In the world of bad ideas as bad sports analogies, you really hit the ball out of the park here.
While I admire your sleuthy and sneaky nature (are we related?) you could very well have put her health at risk by substituting your anti-depressants for what she thought were painkillers, especially if she is taking another medication that is contraindicated to whatever you are taking to help you make it through the day unscathed.
I SAID NOW! STOP READING AND PICK UP THE PHONE!
Back in the 1960s, “Mother’s Little Helper” was Valium – a drug many women became addicted to in part because of the ease with which they could convince their doctor they needed it, and also because they were bored as hell sitting around the house all day without Facebook and Twitter to keep them entertained and engaged in petty squabbles.
Valium is dangerous enough, but the new trend of taking painkillers recreationally is disturbing and wreaking havoc all across America. It may be screwing up people in other countries as well, but I’m xenophobic and don’t care.
Make no mistake about it, we are living through an epidemic – a stratospheric rise in the sale and abuse of opioid medications since 1999 should worry us all. Please click here for some information on what’s happening: Painkiller Overdoses. I am not qualified to sum up this issue so I encourage everyone to take a look.
You told me yesterday that Becky’s strange behavior over the past year includes not showing up for things, slurred speech and droopy eyes, a sluggish appearance and a flat affect. In other words, you described me before my coffee injection each morning.
You also told me she had knee replacement surgery about 18 months ago.
If I were a practicing lawyer instead of a disgruntled non-active lawyer, I would say you’ve got quite a bit of good circumstantial evidence that Becky has a problem, especially in conjunction with her boosting drugs from your medicine cabinet. By the way – not good guest behavior and as rude as farting at the dinner table.
The question now is: do you do anything about it, and if so, what?
Question #1: Do You Do Anything?
The answer is obviously “yes,” if only for purely self-centered reasons which are my most very favorite reasons of all!
First of all, like all other Americans except the bicycle nazis in Portland, Becky drives everywhere, even the four blocks between your two homes. Imagine how you would feel if she ran over a toddler (or worse yet, a Labradoodle!) on your street after drinking some wine and mixing it with painkillers (on purpose) and antidepressants (whoops – that’s on you!).*
Second, if she dies from an overdose your inaction will haunt you for a long time to come, unless you’re an unfeeling asshole. I don’t think you are, so you are likely to feel an enormous amount of guilt and responsibility if you take this knowledge and do nothing with it.
Do not mistake my advice here for an order that you become Becky’s sober coach or that you are in any way responsible for what happens further on down the line, but I believe you owe it to Becky, her family and yourself to direct her to the proper help.
Whether or not she accepts that help and makes a better life for herself is up to her, but at least you will know you did SOMETHING.
Question #2: What to Do?
You need to speak with Becky’s husband immediately. Take him to lunch, describe your observations regarding the change in her behavior and tell him about your little pill-switcharoo project. Forward him this blog or at the very least forward him this link from the Mayo Clinic: Intervention Basics. That site has good information on how to organize an intervention and frankly, I am swimming in the deep end without water wings here.
Ask if you can be part of the intervention so you can express your concerns to Becky in a supportive and safe environment, but don’t be surprised if her husband wants only family there.
It is possible Becky’s husband is well-aware of this problem and has either tried to deal with it in the past or for some reason has chosen not to. If he expresses no desire to help his wife with her apparent addiction, you should speak with her directly, if for no other reason than the alleviation of guilt described above should something terrible happen as a result of her problem.
This door will be opened anyway when you inform her she stole the wrong drugs, unless she tells you she meant to steal your anti-depressants. I don’t want to consider that as a possibility because it makes this entire blog moot and I don’t have time for a re-write.
In closing, be prepared to lose this friend for at least a while and possibly forever, whether because she remains mired in her addiction or it finally kills her. I know many people who have fought for years to save family members or friends from drug addiction, only to be disappointed time and time again when the addict remains addicted or dies.
Best of luck and please write back and let me know what happens.
*I don’t want to lecture you too much because I am very busy today, but you showed very bad judgment in not only switching the meds but inviting her over and serving her wine when you suspect she is abusing painkillers. Please be more thoughtful in the future.
Readers: here’s an interesting list for you to peruse if you are like me and can only relate to issues if they are put in the context of famous people:
I will be on the radio today with the most awesome Jimmy Robb out of Sun Valley, Idaho. You can listen in at 3:15 Pacific time by clicking here: Robin on the Radio Today!
Love you all and thanks for reading!