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A Stash of Pills: It Happens Every Day

A Stash of Pills: It Happens Every Day

If you’ve seen August: Osage County you’ve met Violet, an opiate addict played by Meryl Streep with a huge and well-hidden cache of pain pills and benzodiazepines. Her daughter Barbara, played by Julia Roberts—with both women receiving Oscar nominations for stellar performances—searches through the house and finds enough pills to fill a gallon-sized food-storage bag.

Unless you are the loved one of an opiate addict, you can’t imagine that someone who needs pain pills could expend the energy necessary to collect and maintain such a mountain of medication. But it happens all the time, because the addiction motivates the addict to go from one practitioner to another—claiming toothache, backache, migraines—for something to help them get by.

There’s a scene in the movie long after you’ve realized that Violet’s daughters really no longer care about their mother’s addiction as much as they scurry to avoid the lash of her harsh tongue, when Barbara methodically and quickly through the house, a soldier trained on a methodical search and destroy mission. She comes up with bottles upon bottles of Vicodan, Percodan, Percocet, Xanax, Valium, and more, and flushes it all down the commode. You might think that nobody could possibly manage to acquire that many pills, but it happens every day.

Statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control in 2010 documented that pharmacists dispensed enough painkillers to medicate each adult in this country every four hours for 30 days.  And over the past four years, addiction to opiates is expanding.

 If you live with an opiate addict, then you already know what’s up. One woman relates, after her mother’s death from a heart attack—following years spent in and out of rehab facilities for addiction as well as hospitals for both real and imagined medical ills—how the police came to her mother’s house and searched it. They found dozens of bottles of pain pills and benzos, enough to fill up three bags—about triple the size of Violet’s stash.

It’s easy for them to avoid being detected with these prescriptions. They simply go from one pharmacy to another—not branches of the same pharmacy, but completely different businesses. They avoid using insurance and pay with cash. As stated, they get the pills from a variety of providers—well, these ones are from the dentist, and those were prescribed by the chiropractor, and so on. In the movie, Violet is a cancer patient, which makes it that much easier for her to get her pills, but any addict worth his or her weight in Vicodin knows how to go in and fool a doctor.

It’s difficult to conduct a search for the pills that your own loved one has accumulated and hidden away. Addicts become so adept at hiding them; they trade ideas with other addicts whom they meet at rehab centers and jail holding cells. A list of places where you should look for pills would fill another whole page. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

What you can do, however, is contact your family member’s primary care physician. Most states have instituted Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs. (At this writing, Kansas and Missouri are the exceptions.) Physicians who prescribe Schedule II-IV controlled drugs are required to report their prescriptions electronically. Even if a patient obtains medication from multiple resources, all the prescriptions will be recorded at this central data collection site—but it just takes someone to ask for the report.

Your family member’s physician probably won’t fill you in on the results of the report because of doctor-patient confidentiality, but rest assured that neither will he give the report to the addict. He will handle the issue on a level between himself and the patient, and hopefully he will get the person into outpatient or residential substance abuse treatment. And that’s when the real work begins. 

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