What I wish my parents had known about their medicine cabinet

Special series: Community voices on overdose prevention

Thursday, August 31, is International Overdose Prevention Day. This week, we are sharing community perspectives on preventing overdose and addiction. We start with a conversation with Maya, an 18-year-old who started abusing prescription drugs at the age of 13. Now, she’s in recovery and shares her insight with us.

“It’s not too early to reach out for help. You don’t have to wait until it gets ‘bad enough’.- Maya

Listen to Maya’s interview on WordPress (not recommended for Internet Explorer users]:

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Here are a two resources if you or someone you know could use some support:

FIND A DROP-BOX to safely dispose of medications.  

Transcript of Maya’s interview:

Interviewer: Maya, thanks so much for being on the phone with me today.

Maya: Yeah, sure.

I: So let’s get started. Can you tell us what life looked like when you first started your opioid use?

I remember I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and depression. I think I was around thirteen years old. Didn’t have a prescription or anything. I just opened up my parents’ medicine cabinet and I found a bottle of valium, which is also benzodiazepine, that my mom had from a few years before. It was not being used and I took a couple. And I continued to do that for a little while. And it started becoming not just my own parents’ medicine cabinet but other people. Eventually I found prescription pain killers which became my drug of choice. And it went from being, you know, not super frequent, maybe a few months of benzos, to actually becoming physically dependent on prescription opiates just from stealing them from people’s medicine cabinets. And that went for a while and just yeah, got worse from there.

I: No one would notice, would they?

M: Nope, no one would notice. And they didn’t for a while so I was able to get away with it for a while until it became obvious that I was having a problem.

Keeping medicine secure, you know, not only making sure to take it back but keeping it secure and locked up, or at least in a place that’s not easily accessible, not under the bathroom sink, I think is super important.

I: So looking back, what might have changed if you hadn’t had easy access to the prescription medications that you were looking for?

M: OK, I’ll stop by giving a little disclaimer and that’s that I’m really happy about where I’m at with my recovery. And that being said, you know, I think I could’ve avoided a lot of the pain that I put both myself through and a lot of the people around me if I had not opened that cabinet and taken those valiums in the first place. Because, yeah, it turns out that I am predisposed to addiction and the best way to prevent that is from not taking that first pill or whatever it is. So yeah, you know, if I had opened that cabinet and hadn’t found anything, maybe I wouldn’t have gone down the path that I went down.

I: Can you tell us a little about your path to recovery today, what it looks like?

M: Yeah, so I first started out my recovery process, I think I had been using for a little over a year and people started noticing. And I started noticing it becoming a problem and I started out by going to 12-step meetings. And at that point, I was kind of like one-foot-in, one-foot out, which doesn’t really work in a 12-step program and I wasn’t able to stay abstinent from drugs. That was really painful for me and ended up causing way more harm than good trying to do recovery, basically, without being clean. It doesn’t really work. So I ended up talking to my family, sitting down with them, and  we both together decided I needed to go to treatment. So I went to a three-month wilderness rehab program and then I went to about a 14-month residential program. It wasn’t like I came out and everything was perfect. I still consider myself to be in recovery, which means that I’m still an addict. So when I came out I was much more in a place where I could participate in that same 12-step program which I ended up going back to. And I started doing mental health counseling again. And I have met a lot of amazing people in recovery and I’ve been able to be a role model for a lot of people in my life, people who are in recovery or are struggling with addiction.

I: If there is one message that you’d like to share with parents, caregivers, or other young people, what would that be?

M: Alright, so as for young people, I’d say if you’re struggling with addiction or with substance use or you think you might have a problem, it’s not too early to reach out for help. You don’t have to wait until it gets “bad enough.” I know that with every time I used, things got worse. For me—and this can happen with prescription opiate use—it lead to intravenous heroin use. But I wasn’t any more of an addict using shooting heroin than I was when I opened that cabinet and took those valium. I wish I had stopped before I got to that point, but, you know there are things that I’m really lucky never happened to me.    Like getting arrested, you know, becoming homeless. But those kinds of things will happen, you know, as addicts need to go down the road. So if you’re young and you’re struggling, then reach out for help. There is hope for sure.

Sorry, there were two things. And for parents, super important–or for any adults, basically: if you have medicine, unwanted medicine in your cabinet, whether it’s from a few years ago or, you know, a few months ago, a bottle of Vicodin or Percocet that your kid got for wisdom teetch that you never used, you know, get rid of that. Bring it to a secure medicine return program. There’s I think TakeBackYourMeds.org has a list of them. And you can find one near you. Don’t be too naïve to think, “Oh, my kid wouldn’t do that.” It’s not about being like a bad kid. People would’ve never expected that I would be the one to take their meds, which is probably how I got away with it. But, frankly it might not be your kid. It could be a friend of your kid, or your friends, a family member. So by taking your meds back, you’re doing a service to them, and, you know, keeping your community safe.

I: I just want to thank you so much for the story that you’re sharing and the great work that you’re doing. I just want to congratulate you.

M: Thank you so much. I really appreciate having this opportunity. It’s my pleasure to share my story.

[end transcript]


Originally posted August 28, 2017.

(Featured image via Huffington Post.)