SCOTTSDALE, AZ (CBS5) -The nation’s fastest growing drug problem could be happening right next door. Typical drug addicts now include suburban moms popping pills from Percocet to Xanax just to get through the day.
“Everyone was doing it, pretty much,” said a Scottsdale woman we’ll call “Lori,” who agreed to share her story with CBS 5 Investigates in hopes of shedding light on a dangerous problem.
“During the two years, I was what you would say was a functioning drug addict. It was something I did from morning ’til night. Something I was ashamed of,” said the 40-year-old mom. From the outside, Lori appeared to have it all together. She had a lot of friends, a beautiful home and a loving family. But the economy took a turn and so did her business, which prompted Lori to get help to deal with the stress.
“It started with some financial stress and my doctor put me on a Xanax prescription as well as some anti-depressants for some anxiety,” she said.
Lori said the drugs put her at ease almost immediately.
“When I first started, it worked,” she said. “But the more that I took, the less it worked, so I had to up it.” It wasn’t long before Lori was hooked. She soon supplemented her doctor’s prescription any way she could.
“I could get a pill from anyone – at a school function, those women just carry them in their purse,” she explained.
A network of medicated moms toting powerful opiods and anti-depressants to stimulants that temporarily transform them into high-energy supermoms.
“It’s so prevalent in an area like this,” Lori said of the affluent Scottsdale neighborhood. “You would be very surprised to know that it is in more households than you would ever believe – so many housewives.”
Valley housewives who can easily get a prescription.
“They know which doctors prescribe. They all go to the same ones,” she said.
Lori eventually ordered pills online, visited a shady pain clinic and made trips to Mexico to get her hands on more drugs.
“I literally would go around to pharmacy to pharmacy and stock up on it,” she explained.
It’s a dangerous habit that’s turning ordinary moms into common criminals and bona fide drug addicts.
“In the end, I had an actual dealer. So pretty tough stuff for me to say,” Lori admitted.
Arizona has one of the highest death rates in the country for prescription drug overdoses, according to a new study by the Trust for America’s Health. That means in Arizona, the abuse is so bad someone is now more likely to die of a prescription drug overdose than a car accident. “I can tell you they’re as addictive and probably worse than many of the street drugs out there,” explains Dr. Michael Yasinski, a Scottsdale psychiatrist.
He says it’s shocking how many affluent middle-aged women are getting hooked on prescription drugs.
“It’s a rampant drug movement out there where it’s moms and grandmothers and all sorts of people in that community are using,” said Yasinski.
According to the Centers for Disease and Control, sales of prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999, and so have the number of overdose deaths. They’ve also seen a spike in Xanax, where an estimated one in eight Americans, or 40 million people, have prescriptions.
“You pop it and magically you feel better,” describes Yasinski of the euphoric properties of some pills.
There are millions of people who suffer from chronic pain and truly need prescription drugs in order to function.
“Anti-anxiety medicines are for people with legitimate anxiety from a psychiatric condition or to use temporarily if you lose a mother or have a loss in your family – some kind of really stressful situation,” said Yasinski, who admits the risk of addiction is high.
CBS 5 Investigates pulled the data to find the top five drugs dispensed last year in Arizona. In order by common brand names they are listed as Vicodin, Percocet, Ambien, Oxycontin and Xanax. Oxycontin prescriptions surpassed those of Xanax since 2010, surging 46 percent according to the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy.
Yasinski says his patients most often request something to help them cope when reality is too much to take.
“When they start to lose the superficial type of stuff that kept them happy, there’s an emptiness left inside, and that’s typically when they start to look for someone to fill and numb that emptiness which is really painful,” he explained.
For Lori, the drug abuse eventually made things worse.
“It was definitely a numbing factor but the problems didn’t go away.”
Her drug habit became incredibly expensive. She told CBS 5 Investigates she was spending $2,000 to $3,000 a week. But it ultimately was costing her so much more. “Things were starting to fail. My business was failing, my friendships were failing, my marriage was failing and it was going downhill pretty quick,” she said as she described the most painful time in her life.
One night, she hit rock bottom and finally decided to pull the plug on her destructive way of life.
“Honestly the night I decided to quit, I thought my family was going to bury me. I thought it was to the point where I wasn’t going to live,” she admitted.
Lori has been clean for several years but said getting to this point was one of the hardest things she’s ever done. She says a tight support network of friends, family and professionals has been the key to her recovery.
Yasinski points out that without professional help, addicts have only a very small chance of recovering on their own. He suggests masking or numbing emotions should only be a temporarily fix through seriously stressful times. Ultimately he says emotions are meant to be felt, dealt with and processed in order to move on and function normally in society again.
“As a 40-year-old woman without substances, it’s kind of learning how to live again,” said Lori.