Jason Smith / Author, The Bitter Taste of Dying
This was not what I’d planned for my life, to be kicking Fentanyl, a schedule II narcotic, 50–100 times more potent than morphine. I’d spent the previous month sucking the drug from a patch that was supposed to go on my skin, and now found myself in a world of concrete the Mexicans called a jail.
The descent had begun years before, but the downward trajectory was only recently spiraling out of control. For a long time, I was able to steer my way out of drug-addict-tailspins, but it was time for a crash.
About a year prior to hearing the guards yell out “Yay-son Smeet” each morning so they could wake me up and beat the shit out of me, I woke up one day in my Northern California home and couldn’t feel. Anything. Nothing. My world had gone gray overnight, a complete and total mental breakdown I kept a secret. I left my job and spent a year laying on a couch.
An entire year of nothing.
I remember thinking about taking the trash out, and the energy that would take. I didn’t have it. You might as well have told me to go run a 10K. Walking outside was a task I was not up for.
It was crazy.
I had always assumed that depression was sadness, simply the opposite of being happy.
I learned that, for me, depression was nothingness. Sadness, in fact, would have been a welcome feeling, in that it would have at least been a feeling. Instead I was in a deeply depressed land of no emotion, no feeling, no heart, no ambition, no strength.
Family would stop by asking what was wrong and I’d tell them I was fine, that the homeless look was in fashion, to leave me alone, to please quit staring at my blacked-out windows. My home went into foreclosure because paying my mortgage required too much effort.
Don’t get me wrong, I had the money. I’m talking about the act of getting out a checkbook, writing a check and placing it into an envelope — I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the energy.
I told myself that I didn’t know what was wrong, but I was lying. I knew exactly what it was. It was those fucking Fentanyl patches.
Following a back surgery, my doctor told me to wear one 25-microgram patch and change it every two days. And I did. Until, of course, I didn’t. Under his supervision, I climbed and climbed in 25-microgram increments over the course of six years, until I was wearing 175 micrograms at a time, demonstrating an impressive tolerance to all things opiate.
What I didn’t know at the time was these patches were approved to be used on terminal cancer patients for no longer than six months. I was on them for more than half a decade, in combination with Norco and Xanax, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, pieced together with narcotics and benzodiazepines. Unwittingly, I’d pushed my brain to a chemically-induced point that it couldn’t handle. So it shut down completely, leaving me on a couch without enough energy to write a check.
It’s a strange thing to know the source of your misery but be too afraid to remove it from your life. Laying on my couch, I knew exactly what the problem was. I was like a battered wife, beaten into submission and wanting to leave but too afraid to face the world alone.
One day while lying down, not doing shit in typically-depressed fashion, I was watching Intervention on A&E.
Intervention is one of those cable shows that tricks a drug addict into thinking that for some reason, the network has to decided to devote lots of money to doing a documentary on their pathetic, drug-addicted life for no good reason.
In reality, it’s a set-up with the family staging an intervention, but only after the true extent of depravity that is their life is revealed for the world to see. The addict eventually succumbs to their pressure, usually after mommy or daddy threatens to cut them off financially, giving you a warm feeling inside because this drug addict is going to get the help that he or she needs. They usually flash forward, showing the addict 60 days into their treatment, looking healthy and happy, far from the twisted-wreck-of-a-human you just watched deteriorate before your eyes for 56 minutes.
“Johnny spent 86 days at xxxx Treatment Center.”
You feel real good about the situation, genuinely happy that Johnny finally got his shit together.
That is, until they flash on the screen at the end:
“Johnny left rehab after 80 days, stayed clean for two weeks, and then relapsed. He currently lives on the streets of Portland.”
It leaves you with a real what the fuck? feeling when it’s over and done with.
Anyway, there was a guy on there who put the patches in his cheek instead of on his skin, since that let him absorb the entire dose of the patch all at once.
You know you’re a drug addict when you watch a show like Intervention and your only take away is hey, I never thought of doing drugs like that.
I decided to skip the second half of the episode and try this method for myself.
Euphoria. Instant Euphoria.
For the first time in a year, I FELT SOMETHING. Sure, the high was great. But I was just relieved to be able to feel again. I had energy. I could eat. I could leave the house. I could interact with people again. I had life.
I should have watched the second half of that Intervention episode.
The problem with doing Fentanyl patches orally is the patches don’t last. A patch that is prescribed to last two days on your skin instead lasts only four hours in your mouth.
Running through four to five patches a day meant I ran out of my prescription early. Very early. And these weren’t like pills that I could scam out of some Urgent Care facility at will. These were Schedule II narcotics, meaning the DEA got copies of each prescription, making them impossible to get from multiple doctors without getting caught up.
It was at this time I got a call from a friend in Germany, who I’d met a few years earlier while teaching English in Prague. He was one of my business English students while he interned at a Czech bank.
“Hey, Jason! How are you?”
I skipped over the living on a couch and sucking on Fentanyl patches parts.
“I’m good man, what’s up?”
“My friend Terri is in California right now, traveling around. He really wants to go to Mexico and asked me if I knew anyone who could take him.”
Ding Ding Ding.
To Be Continued…
About the Author
Jason is heavily involved in the recovery community in Northern California as a speaker and a writer. He is a frequent speaker at the California Medical Board and California Board of Pharmacy, sharing his experience, strength, and hope in getting out of the hell that is addiction.
His book, The Bitter Taste of Dying, is now available for pre-order.
Jason is @mrjayzone on Twitter