Prescription pills led local women down years-long path of addiction
A doctor wrote Nicki Ross a prescription for Percocet. It changed her life.
The Greensburg woman was prescribed the opiate painkiller after a 2001 surgery. She took three to four pills a day at first. Soon, she was downing as many as 20 daily, taking to the streets to find what she needed.
“That Percocet addiction led to Oxys, led to fentanyl,” said Ross, 50.
Judy R. has a similar story. The West Newton resident asked that her full name not be used.
The 45-year-old woman was prescribed OxyContin and morphine in 2007 after being involved in a vehicle crash and receiving a cancer diagnosis.
“All the years went by, I started taking more and didn’t realize it,” she said. “Your body starts to manipulate … to connive to find ways of getting more pills and I was never like that, never.”
The two Westmoreland County women are among those who have been affected by a nationwide opioid crisis spurred by overprescribing and misuse of prescription painkillers.
More than 2 million Americans abuse prescription opioids annually, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Between 2006 and 2012, 124 million prescription opioids were shipped to pharmacies in Westmoreland County, according to numbers from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Allegheny County pharmacies distributed 468 million opioid pills over that span, records show.
In 1999 and 2000, prescription opioid overdose deaths started to rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That trend continued nationally until heroin overdose deaths sharply increased in 2010 as fatal prescription opioid overdoses started to fall, according to the CDC.
Both Judy R. and Ross lived it.
The Percocet that Ross was legitimately prescribed took away physical pain from her surgery, but also the emotional pain she lived with from past traumatic experiences, she said.
“It masked the emotional brokenness that I was living in,” she said, “and I truly believe that’s where 90% of addiction starts because of trauma you’ve gone through.”
She lost everything and became homeless. After 14 years of addiction, Ross had burned everyone.
In 2016, she went to a women’s home group ministry program and learned how to live again. She graduated in a year.
“They made me feel worthy again,” Ross said.
Judy R. was shut off by a doctor in 2012. She spent the next few years buying pills on the street for $60 apiece. She switched to heroin because it was cheaper.
“It sucks you in, you get pulled right in,” she said.
A run-in with police a few years ago scared her straight. After getting treatment for a year, she got hooked again after having medical issues. Now, she’s been clean for about two years.
Judy R., who said she previously worked in the medical field, wasn’t surprised at the DEA’s figures.
“I would think it would be higher,” she said.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter .