A Message Of Hope
Today, we look at a problem that is all too common in this country, and it’s not just a kid problem or a young person problem. For whatever reason, Americans are pilling up more than ever, and those pills are literally stealing the lives of those who pop them and those who stand by the ones who pop them. Today’s message of hope comes from a young man who has beaten the pills, thus taking charge of his own life again while allowing his family to regain theirs.
I’ve known Jason Conine “always.” He was one of those kids who brightened my day every single time I saw him simply because his smile was sunny, and it never faltered, nor did his “Hi, Mrs. Jones,” every time he saw me. By his own admission, Jason didn’t even “know what drugs were in high school. I’d never even taken a pain pill,” he told me.
And then, Jason grew up, and I had my first real health scare at about the same time, becoming self-absorbed for enough years that I totally missed the fact that Jason had developed a problem…a big problem.
“I had a back injury from playing football. I remember telling my mom that I was hurt, but it wasn’t until she saw me balled up on the floor that she realized how badly I was hurting. Literally, my feet would fold up to my shoulders with the spasms. It didn’t mater how I tried or how hard my parents tried, we couldn’t pull them back into place so we headed to the ER.
“They gave me enough muscle relaxers to work and Hydrocodone for the pain. Even when the muscles relaxed, the pain was still there. I actually ended up staying in the hospital on pain meds for quite a while.”
And then, Jason had his first back surgery in 1993 in Abilene, a surgery that did not solve the problem.
“Leading up to my second surgery, which was done in Galveston in 1995, I was in the hospital in Comanche for 35 days, on Demerol (100), Phenergan (50), and Robaxin, a muscle relaxer. The doctors did try to send me home on pain meds, and that didn’t work so I stayed in the hospital on heavy drugs.
“It was at the time of the second surgery that the Hydrocodone first started becoming a problem. It is the most addictive and most prescribed drug on the planet.”
Of course, brand new regulations, including a prescription written in triplicate, shows that the medical world of 2014 is beginning to wake up to the problems associated with the drug, but that wasn’t the case back then.
So why did Jason put off that second surgery? That’s easy. He didn’t have insurance, and you know what that means.
“I needed that second surgery badly, and I finally got into a doctor in Galveston. [His surgeon in Abilene had left.] That surgery worked for a while, and I was completely off of the meds for the next five years.
The third surgery was performed in 1998 in Austin. By then, the surgeon in Galveston had retired, but the good thing was that Jason was still off of the drugs.
“After that third surgery, we were coming home, and we got to about Goldthwaite, and I stared locking up again with spasms. We hurried to the Comanche hospital, and it took six people to get me out of the car. A few hours later, I was in an ambulance, heading back to Austin.”
He’s had so many back problems that Jason can’t even remember what the problem was that sent him back to Austin, but whatever it was, it was resolved, and he did fine for a period of time.
“In 2000, I started having more back problems, pain and a few spasms so I went to a pain management doctor in Stephenville, and it was at this point that the addiction started. He prescribed high doses of Hydrocodone, and instead of solving the problem, we began to mask it.”
Having been prescribed a lot of Hydrocodone myself, I had to ask him how in the world he could stand it. I’ve never found the drug to work on pain, and I hate the sick feeling it gives me.
“Because I’m so ADD. It’s been shown that on people who are ADD or ADHD the drug has a reverse effect. So, instead of slowing me down, it sped me up just like speed. AND I could function without pain.
“Then I got married in October of 2000, and my addiction became bigger. I found a pain management doctor in Fort Worth who prescribed Hydrocodone, Oxycontin, and Fentanyl, all at the same time.”
Of course, that any doctor believed that prescribing an army of high-powered pills to someone whose whole life was in front of him was the way to go is ridiculous, and he became more and more dependent upon the drugs.
“At one point, I had five different doctors. Because I was taking so much, I became a doctor chaser. It got to the point that one time after my daughter was born..”
And it was here that the tears took over…
When he could talk again, Jason explained that when the baby was slightly under two months old, “I had a job that I had to get out, and I had taken so much to be able to stay up and get the job done that when I came home and laid down beside my daughter, I went into something that was more or less a drug-induced coma. I could hear my wife trying to wake me up, but I couldn’t respond for over two hours.
“Some months later, I was off driving a truck and when I came home, there was a bag by the door that I recognized as mine. My wife told me that it was rehab or we were through. So, I went to Summer Sky [in Stephenville] for a month.”
At the time he entered the facility, the tall, blonde, and handsome young man with the beautiful smile weighed 150 pounds instead of the more ideal 210.
“I got out, and about two months later I was right back on the pills. It was both a mental and physical craving. My back hurt, and I thought I functioned better on them.”
Of course, he didn’t, but it is the demon of the drug to trick those who dance to its music into believing that they function well under its influence.
The fourth surgery came that same year, 2002, in Fort Worth, Fort Worth because the doctor in Austin had also retired.
“I took pills for about 30 days after the surgery, and then I was completely off of them for about a year. Then, the marital problems started, and I went right back on them, using the back problem as an excuse. It’s easy to stay on them if you find the right doctors.”
In 2005, Jason and his wife “went through an extremely rough divorce. I was taking 30-40 Hydrocodone pills a day, and I was on disability with another herniated disc.”
It was also in 2005 that Jason had his fifth surgery, this time in Waco because he simply did not like the Fort Worth doctor. Like the others, the surgeon prescribed Hydrocodone, and Jason knew someone who would continue to fill the prescription for him, at least he would until the mood swings that came with the drug clashed with the unethical behavior of the man who was supplying it.
“And then I got a call from the task force who needed to speak to me and they came over. I talked to them and two days later they filed obtaining a controlled substance on me…even though I never falsified anything.”
Knowing the situation, I also knew at this point in the interview that Jason Conine was telling me the truth.
“I was on deferred adjudication for a while…then it was revoked and probation was revoked, and I went to jail for six months….here for three months and Palestine for three months.
“November 17, 2006, was the day I was sent to state jail in Palestine, and it was the first day I did not have Hydrocodone. It was prescribed, and I took it while I was in Comanche, but unless you have cancer or something of that nature, you don’t get anything like that in the state jail.
“Plus, I knew that I had to make a change in my life at that point. I came from a very good, loving home. I wasn’t raised to have these problems. Granted, I was always the kid that was in trouble, but my brother caused most of that,” he laughed, for a moment that same high school kid I used to know.
Serious once again, he continued, “I never will forget that I was sitting there on a Saturday afternoon when I received the call that I had visitors. My mom and dad were there with my nephew and daughter. It really sank in when it was time for them to go because my five year old that I had not seen in over five months said, “Daddy, we can get you some clothes, and you can just go with us…”
Once again the tears flowed as the dad who obviously loves his daughter remembered those dark days.
“That broke me, and that was the end of the addiction. A couple of weeks later, I got a call, telling me to pack my stuff, that I was going back to my county. The following Tuesday I went before [Judge] James Morgan, who asked me what I had learned. I told him that I had learned that I was not going down the same road that I’d taken before.
“Morgan put me on shock probation, and I knew I was done if I so much as received a seat belt ticket. I promise you that I walked a fine line. I went to work for Wayne Moerman and never missed a beat, and I met my second wife.
“I was so afraid of how people would respond to me, knowing how many I had hurt, and it’s been one hell of a long road. I had to prove myself, that the person I had been was not the real me, and it has taken a lot to regain that trust again, but I think I’ve proven who I really am.
“The stigma does follow me, at least in my mind. If I have to go to the doctor for anything and someone sees me there, I’m afraid they will think that I am there for drugs. And yet, I don’t even allow the stuff in the house…don’t want my kids on meds…I fear it so much for them.
“I know that I will NEVER be back on the stuff, but I do fear for them. I should have been dead as much as I was taking…” he trailed off, obviously distressed at just the thought of his children facing the same struggle.
“YOU and Only you have to have the want to in order to quit. I’m by far not the best Christian around because I have my problems, but I will say that without my Faith in God and knowing He is the ultimate healer and forgiver, I would not be where I am today.”
And after eight years of being clean, I’d say that Jason Conine is in a very good place. And as to stigma…but for the Grace of God go…well, you know the rest, don’t you? It could have been any of us, and that’s a fact.