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Default Abusing Legal Drugs - 09-30-2011, 08:25 AM

Years ago, Sheena Hennig thought she had it all.

Growing up in a small town 30 miles south of Atlanta in the early-to-mid 1990s, Hennig said her father, a general surgeon, and mother, a nurse, showered her with gifts and provided her with everything she wanted.

“I had a phenomenal childhood,” she said. “I had everything. I had my horses, a truck, barn, trailer, a huge 3,000 square-foot house.”

During those happy times, Hennig said she was a bright, outgoing young woman who wanted to be a veterinarian to care for horses — an animal she loves to this day.

But Hennig’s childhood dream was destroyed by an addiction to painkillers that began when she was a teenager and continued throughout her 20s.

Today, after more than a decade of prescription drug abuse, the 29-year-old recovering addict and mother of three is rebuilding her life one day at a time with help from friends, family, her church and the Albany County Adult Drug Court.

Every day is a challenge, but Hennig said she is optimistic she can succeed.

While her dreams of becoming a veterinarian are no longer possible because of a felony conviction related to prescription drug abuse, Hennig is studying large animal science at Laramie County Community College with hopes of becoming a veterinarian technician one day.

Hennig agreed to speak to the Boomerang and allowed her real name to be printed to help others avoid committing the same mistakes she made with prescription drugs.

She also said she wants people who are addicted to prescription drugs to know there is always hope.

“If I can help even one person to not go down this road,” Hennig said, “that would be worth a lifetime for me.”

Legal and prescription drugs

Officer James Pracheil, a drug-recognition expert with the Laramie Police Department (LPD), said the most highly abused prescription drugs are narcotic analgesics, commonly known as painkillers.

Narcotic analgesics include oxycodone (brand name OxyContin), hydrocodone (brand name Vicodin) and morphine, among other painkillers.

Pracheil said painkillers are very effective and, therefore, are highly addictive when taken in doses larger than prescribed.

“The main reason they’re so popular is because they work,” he said. “They’re all opium derived. They’re under the same class as heroin.”

When taken in large amounts, painkillers cause drowsiness, “clouded” mental functioning, slurred speech, impaired night vision and feelings of euphoria, Pracheil said.

The human body quickly develops a tolerance to painkillers, which means people must increase their dosages to experience the same high as the first time, Pracheil said.

Other highly abused prescription drugs are anti-anxiety sedatives such as xanax, Valium and diazepam.

“Those are central nervous system depressants,” Pracheil said. “Those will have a lot of the same effects as alcohol, because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant as well.”

People looking for a high also have been known to abuse anti-depressant medications such as Prozac.

Sedative hypnotics (colloquially known as sleeping pills or aids) such as zolpiderm (brand name Ambien) are also popular drugs to abuse, Pracheil said.

One of the most popular legal drugs to abuse that does not require a prescription to obtain is dextramethorphan (DXM), the active ingredient found in Robitussin Maximum Strength (Robitussin MS), Benylin and 118 other cough-suppressant cold medicines, according to, one of the most popular and comprehensive sources of drug information online.

Currently, there are no legal distinctions between medical and recreational use, sale or purchase of DXM. Therefore, anyone can pick up a box or two of cold medicine and go “robo-tripping,” slang for getting high on DXM.

To get high, most people who are new to DXM drink an entire bottle of cold medicine, Pracheil said.

A regular does of DXM is in the range of 15-30 milligrams.

But many people who abuse it take it in doses of 240-360 milligrams, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).

DXM causes euphoria, hallucinations, slurred speech, loss of balance and feelings of strength and power.

“It falls under the dissociative-anesthetics category,” Pracheil said of DXM. “(People who abuse DXM) will have the thousand-yard stare.”

The NIH says prescription and over-the-counter drugs are the most frequently abused controlled substances by high school seniors.

Nearly one in 12 seniors reported the non-medical use of Vicodin, while one in 20 admitted to abusing OxyContin.

According to the NIH, in 2009, 7 million Americans were using psychotherapeutic drugs for non-medical reasons, with 5.3 million abusing painkillers.

As the child of a general surgeon and a mother who was a nurse and a painkiller addict herself, Hennig admitted she was exposed to prescription drugs at an early age.

“I grew up around narcotics from conception,” she said.

Hennig began using prescription drugs in elementary school, when her father would give her powerful painkillers for severe headaches.

“My father would come up to school and give me a shot of Nubain or a shot of Demerol,” she said. “That’s where it began.”

When she got old enough to recognize the color and shape of prescription drugs, Hennig said she would steal painkillers from her father, who kept medications in the trunk of his car for house calls.

Hennig said her abuse of prescription drugs didn’t get “extremely heavy” until high school.

“You hit the party scene and boys are hanging out and it went from not just pills but pills and alcohol,” Hennig said. “Then pill, alcohol and other substances as well.”

Despite access to alcohol and other drugs, Hennig said her primary drugs of choice were still painkillers, which slowed down her mind and relaxed her.

Her avenues for obtaining painkillers were numerous. Hennig said she continued to steal prescription drugs from her father for both herself and her mother, who by that time had been busted for forging her husband’s signature on prescriptions for painkillers.

Hennig also said she would accompany her mother when she “picked up prescriptions from 500 different doctors” to fill at pharmacies in neighboring communities outside Atlanta.

By 17, Hennig said she was abusing painkillers daily.

“I did well in school up until my 11th grade year, when I actually dropped out,” she said.

Hennig dropped out of high school, married her boyfriend, gave birth to their first child and moved into an apartment in Meriwether, Ga.

Obtaining prescription and legal drugs

People obtain prescription drugs through a variety of ways, including faking injuries or illnesses.

Pracheil said the LPD has handled cases in which people subtly altered the dosage they were prescribed before visiting a pharmacy.

“I’ve worked a case where the person was prescribed 15 pills and they change the one into a four in order to make it 45,” he said.

Others obtain drugs by stealing their doctor’s prescription pads and forging his or her signature.

One of the most prolific cases of prescription forgery in Laramie involved Christopher Watkins, a local author and writer who was arrested in 2006 for forging 21 prescriptions to obtain oxycodone from pharmacies around town.

He ended up pleading guilty to one count of obtaining prescription drugs through forgery or subterfuge. The other 20 charges were dropped by the prosecution.

In some cases, people steal prescription drugs from their family members. Pracheil said many cases involve minors who steal prescribed drugs from their parents or grandparents.

Some minors take stolen prescription drugs to “pharma parties” — social gatherings at which people dump pills and tablets into bowls for others to take.

There also are cases of people committing armed robberies and burglaries of pharmacies to obtain prescription drugs. Nevertheless, southeast Wyoming has not had as many of those cases as communities in the Midwest and South, Pracheil said.

“It’s really big in Kentucky and West Virginia,” he said. “They call OxyContin ‘hillbilly heroin.’”

Many times, though, prescription drug abusers — particularly abusers of painkillers — start out taking drugs for a legitimate reason, Pracheil said.

“They have some kind of chronic pain, and the dosage that they were prescribed, in their mind, didn’t work well enough, so they take an extra one or two (pills),” he said.

Before long, a person becomes addicted to painkillers and begins doctor shopping, Pracheil said, which is the practice of visiting multiple doctors or psychiatrists to obtain as many prescriptions of the same drug as possible.

To avoid suspicion, a person will have their prescriptions filled at numerous pharmacies, sometimes in different communities, Pracheil said.

Legal drugs that do not require a prescription are easy to get, since people can walk into any store where cold medicines are sold and purchase a few boxes of a cough-suppressant cold medicine with DXM.

Hennig’s abuse of prescription drugs continued through the births of her children in 1999, 2001 and 2005.

“With my first child, I had to have several surgeries,” she said. “You have to have painkillers.”

She also was involved in a car accident for which she said she needed painkillers for recovery.

Even after completing a two-week, in-patient substance-abuse program, Hennig said her abuse of prescription drugs continued through the birth of her second child, whose delivery required a cesarean section followed by more painkillers.

“You learn how to manipulate doctors by saying the right things, so that they give you stronger narcotics,” she recalled. “I did that.”

Throughout this period of her life, Hennig said she had numerous ways to get her hands on painkillers. She could buy them off the street, get them from her mother or manipulate doctors into giving her prescriptions.

From her mother, Hennig said she obtained methadone, which is prescribed by doctors to prevent withdrawal symptoms in people who are addicted to heroin or other opiate drugs.

“I only had to take a very tiny bit of it and it lasted all day,” Hennig said.

Like her second child, Hennig’s third child was born by cesarean section, which resulted in her being prescribed more painkillers.

The risks of abusing legal and prescription drugs

The NIH says annual prescriptions for stimulants increased from 5 million to 45 million from 1991 to 2010.

In tandem with the increase in prescriptions, Pracheil said the abuse of legal and prescription drugs has been rising all over the country since the 1990s.

And, with increased abuse, there are increasing numbers of deaths associated with legal and prescription drugs.

“There are 15 states where unintentional drug overdoses actually outnumber motor vehicle crash deaths,” Pracheil said.

People who drink a cough-suppressant cold medicine with DXM put themselves at risk of overdosing on acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in Tylenol and other mild pain relievers.

“If you drink a whole bottle (of Robitussin MS), that’s probably 20 teaspoons (or doses) at least,” Pracheil said. “You’re talking 10,000 milligrams of acetaminophen. That really damages your liver.”

Healthy adults should take no more than 4,000 milligrams of acetaminophen per day, according to Harvard Medical School.

On top of unintentional death, abuse of legal or prescription drugs can lead to illicit drug use and addiction, Pracheil said.

The LPD has arrested people for prescription drug abuse and then discovered they also were in possession of an illicit drug.

The biggest danger posed by the abuse of legal or prescription drugs is when people operate motor vehicles while impaired, Pracheil said.

“What really causes the problems is when people start driving,” he said. “We’ve had instances where people have been driving while they’re taking Ambien and have gotten into crashes,” he said.

In 2005, Hennig moved to Laramie with her husband, whose parents had come to the Gem City to start a ministry six months earlier.

Hennig said she hated Laramie because of the cold weather, so she, her husband and their two children quickly moved back to Georgia.

After returning to Georgia and giving birth to her third child, Hennig’s abuse of painkillers progressed to the point that she burglarized a neighbor’s home to obtain more drugs.

“I don’t remember exactly how much I had taken or been on, but I’d gone to my neighbor’s house, where I had stolen all of her narcotics,” she admitted.

“They called the police. That’s where I picked up my felony charge.”

Hennig was convicted and sent to jail for eight months. While she was incarcerated, her husband returned to Laramie with their children to be closer to his parents.

“I had just gone crazy,” she recalled. “I was so out of it all the time.”

After her release from jail and a two-month boot camp program, Hennig said the Walton County District Court allowed her to transfer her probation to Albany County in 2006.

Living in a new community halfway across the country didn’t change much for Hennig. She relapsed soon after returning to Laramie.

“We moved into (an apartment complex), where you can go any direction and somebody’s got some sort of drug,” she said. “When you live a whole 3 feet from somebody who’s dealing drugs right next to your apartment and has painkillers … I ended up getting right back into buying pills.”

About nine or 12 months later, Hennig said she violated probation by failing urinary analysis tests.

“I was told that in order to not revoke my probation, that I had to go to an in-patient treatment program … in Casper,” she said. “Which I did do.”

Hennig then moved to Cheyenne, where she lived in the Platte House, which is a self-run, assisted-living home for female addicts that is part of the Oxford House network.

“I stayed there for two months just so I could slowly get back into the world,” she said.

In the fall of 2008, Hennig moved back to Laramie as the first resident in the Oxford House for women in Albany County.

After the women’s Oxford House closed due to low enrollment, Hennig and her family found an apartment in town.

During her time in Laramie, Hennig was able to earn a general equivalency degree (G.E.D.) from LCCC.

Efforts to prevent the abuse of legal and prescription drugs

Some states, including Wyoming, have developed databases to attempt to prevent doctor shopping by tracking prescriptions filled at pharmacies.

In 2004, state lawmakers passed legislation that created the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which allows the Wyoming State Board of Pharmacy to maintain a computerized database to track dispensed controlled substances across the state.

However, an interstate or national database to track prescription drugs does not exist at this time, Pracheil said, which makes it relatively easy for people living in border communities like Laramie or Cheyenne to go doctor shopping and fill prescriptions at pharmacies in neighboring states like Colorado and Nebraska.

“If somebody wants this stuff bad enough, it’s nothing to drive down to Fort Collins to get it,” he said.

“It’s nothing to drive over to Scottsbluff (Nebraska) to get it.”

Training officers to recognize the signs of impairment from legal or prescription drugs is one step law enforcement is taking to lower the rates of abuse.

The LPD’s Drug-Recognition Expert Program is a 12-step, medically validated process to evaluate a person who is suspected of being under the influence of a legal or prescription drug.

Pracheil said LPD officers most often use their drug-recognition training when they suspect someone of operating a motor vehicle while impaired.

“The way we look at … if one of your family members is killed by an impaired driver, it doesn’t matter if it’s alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription drugs,” he said.

In addition to driving under the influence, public intoxication laws apply to people who are under the influence of a legal or prescription drug to the degree they cannot care for themselves, Pracheil said.

The federal government also has taken a role in preventing the abuse of legal and prescription drugs.

In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration ordered stores that sell medicines to remove certain over-the-counter products from their shelves and placed them behind the pharmacist’s counter.

For example, products that contain pseudoephedrine — a nasal decongestant and pain reliever — were removed from shelves and placed behind pharmacy counters, thereby requiring customers to speak to the store’s pharmacist before purchasing.

Looking back at her childhood, Hennig harbors some anger at her parents for exposing her to prescription drugs.

Abusing painkillers for so many years has affected Hennig’s memory of past events.

“I get very angry and upset. I never thought I’d end up where I’m at today,” she admitted. “But I don’t give up.”

Today, Hennig is making her own way in life.

She is separated from her husband — who resides in Georgia — and living in her own place in Laramie.

“I pay my own bills, which I have never done before,” she admitted. “Right now, I can focus on me.”

Albany County Probation and Parole and others in the criminal justice system have been supportive despite her multiple relapses, Hennig said.

“They have been wonderful to me in helping me with rehabilitation, counseling and support,” she said.

“They don’t just throw you in jail.”

Hennig also recognized Peak Wellness and her church as being vital to her continued sobriety since her last relapse in May.

Currently, Hennig is taking classes at LCCC to earn an associate degree.

She is majoring in large animal science, even though her past precludes her from a career as a veterinarian.

“I can’t be a vet,” she said. “I can still do some type of vet work.”

Hennig is also enrolled in adult drug court, which offers an 18-month program for non-violent drug and alcohol offenders.

“It’s very, extremely intense. But, let me tell you, I have had more support, more encouragement, more help … within this last month of being in drug court than I have ever gotten through any probation or any rehabs,” she said. “I feel the genuine care.” Because the craving to take painkillers is always present, Hennig said she prays and attends alcohol and substance abuse meetings just about every night of the week.

Despite daily battles with temptation, Hennig is optimistic that she will succeed and go on to live a drug-free life.

“It’s amazing how, when you live the right life and you’re striving, how doors can be opened for you,” she said. “These last couple of months, I have never felt more alive.”

And, while she doesn’t have the horses or big, beautiful home she had as a child in Georgia, Hennig said she is happier now because she feels she is learning the tools to gain control of her life.

“I don’t care about a fancy car anymore,” she said. “I strive for a better life inside of me.”


Know your drug, know your dose, know your source & know yourself...
You're only as old as the woman you feel...
I've spent a lot of money on good drugs, hot chicks and fast cars.
The rest I just squandered...

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Default 10-02-2011, 03:42 AM

Originally Posted by drdªv€ View Post
“They don’t just throw you in jail.”
Thats a good one.

And why the fuck would parents knowingly give powerful, injected narcotics to a small child? This is not the early 20th century.

I was once that which you are, and what I am you also will be.
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