The Hard Drug Pharmacy

I remember my first trip to the Hard Drug Pharmacy, and my last, and all the ones in between. I hated being there. I would make Mr. Pennington go. Being disabled makes you feel horrible about yourself. It kinda makes you hate yourself. I had dreams and goals for my life, and it was not this. Don't remind me. Going to the Hard Drug Pharmacy made me feel defeated.

But there was a sense of peace being there, too. The pain drugs gave me relief I couldn’t live without. The staff were kind to me. A discrete storefront on Robertson, in the suburbs of Beverly Hills, this pharmacy carried everything, including methadone. That’s special.

“Heroin is a like a warm blanket that makes everything okay,” a drug addict told me years later, when I was off the hard drugs and confused about why I could not recover. That’s how opiates relieve physical pain, by hijacking the emotional stress of pain. But then when the opiates are gone you cannot manage your emotions. It’s not you, it’s your brain that can’t. Nor can you feel pleasure for a loooooong time. Not you, your brain can’t. More on that later.

When the doctor wrote my first prescription for morphine he said, “You may never be able to get off.” I thought if I’m ever lucky enough not to be in pain like this, I will do whatever it takes to get off these drugs. I made a vow to myself. I did not ask him to explain.

The chances of me getting out of pain were non existent. What would ever fix my body? I’d been in pain so bad for so many years, that I couldn’t imagine it could get worse. All it did was get worse. I should have gotten on pain drugs sooner. I was stable on my pain medication. I was not drug seeking. As instructed, I never took my drugs for emotional pain, only physical. I did not become an addict.

When my miracle did happen, it was the pharmacist at the Hard Drug Pharmacy who explained to me, very patiently and repeatedly (it was confusing!), how to plan my titrate. That’s the process of weaning off. “Cut back slowly or you will think you cannot get off,” she said.

I rolled my eyes at this. Who were these wussy people who couldn’t get off these pills? I didn’t think they even affected me that much. 

When I cut back down to half of the dose I had been on daily for years, I became one of those wussy people. I lost all my emotional composure. The agony of the unrelenting insomnia and nighttime muscle spasms. Oh, the shivering! I went to my gastroenterologist because I thought I might be dying from the stomach problems. I would wake up in the morning crying, turned inside out emotionally, totally raw and exposed.

Just like the pharmacist at the Hard Drug Pharmacy said, I thought I don’t understand how to get off. I don't understand how anyone gets off. I cannot get off. I am a slave to these pills. 

I went to the UCLA pain doctor to ask for more advice on how to get off. Surely there must be a better way. She looked at me with real empathy and said, “You’re not an addict, and you aren’t taking very much. Do you want to just stay on this dose for the rest of your life?” She was dead serious. This made me so angry. I rallied and I kept reducing my daily dose.

I lost friends along my titrate. I found out who in my life was an addict, because those people couldn’t stand that I was getting off something, and they tried to talk me out of it. That’s just rude! Of all times to be supportive, this is it!

Phillip Seymour Hoffman left heroin detox, overdosed and died during my titrate. I wept with all my heart because I understood. The pain of a brain formerly bombarded with opium now currently deprived of it is unendurable. Totally and completely inhumane.

I screamed at my husband. I screamed at Dr. Plance. I gained weight from sugar-hooving. I lost weight from the painful stomach aches. (Note: if someone isn’t acting crazy and getting fat, they are not getting off their opiates. Same for benzos.)

It took a brutal seven months of cutting back for me to arrive at zero. I had to stop reducing at one point, for six weeks, because I was so sick. I had bronchitis along the way, which slowed things down. This was the fastest titrate I could tolerate.

My last trip to the Hard Drug Pharmacy was about 10 days before I was off completely. I got a prescription for Lortab (liquid Vicodin) and liquid morphine, because I was so dopesick, I could go down only 1 mg at a time then. You can’t cut those pills up with accuracy. My earlier dose reductions were much bigger. 

Sweating, shaking, and a complete mess, I couldn’t enjoy the moment. This was my last trip to the Hard Drug Pharmacy. Right? I could only hope. 

“You won’t know how much pain you are in until you are off the drugs,” the pharmacist had told me, “because the drugs are covering it up.”

My pain was entirely improved from what I could perceive, but that was on the drugs. What about off? Disturbing thoughts. What if I was putting myself through all of this for nothing. This was an act of faith, as usual for me. It’s up to me, how much I want to try. If this was all a mistake, then I wont be sorry for trying. I’ll be sorry withdrawal hurt so much. 

I got back in my car with the sack of drugs. Next to me on the passenger seat was a huge, opalescent flying beetle. You get very jumpy coming off opiates. You are chronically full of adrenaline. I nearly had a heart attack. I jumped out of the car. I left the door open so the bug could leave but I forgot to watch to make sure he did. I’d lost the capacity for clear thinking months ago. But I knew if I drove home and this bug flew around the car, I would crash. I had no composure left. No focus. Too tired. If I had an accident, I might end up unconscious, and a doctor in an ER might give me shot of demerol or some other opiate. Can’t take that risk.

I called my husband crying. Would he come get me? I wanted to call the police or AAA to come take care of the bug, please!!! I just wanted to go home. No one could help me.

I left the windows open, and waited around on Robertson Boulevard for a couple hours, by the Hard Drug Pharmacy, trying to calm down, hoping God would have mercy on me and the bug would fly away. He must have. I made it home without incident and never saw Mr. Giant Flying Beetle again.

Halloween.jpeg

My Halloween costume later that year. I was off 4 months, and barely surviving the low.

My costume was a big hit.

Madora Pennington