National Recovery Month 2022 – Jeff’s Story

Hi, my name is Jeff Stone and I am currently the office manager at Greenbriar Treatment Center-Wexford. I deeply enjoy my work helping individuals suffering from substance use disorders find freedom from active use. A big reason I am so dedicated to my work is because Greenbriar Treatment Center saved my life and helped me achieve a meaningful life in recovery after experiencing the nightmare of active addiction. In honor of this year’s Recovery Month, I’d like to personally demonstrate that recovery is available to us all and that there is life after addiction by sharing my story.

In order to fully understand how the miracle of recovery happened for me, I have to provide some context. For over 20 years, I was a police officer in a municipal police department in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. During my time as an officer, I worked as a field training officer, a Taser instructor, the department’s first D.A.R.E. Officer, and career as a member of the county S.W.A.T. team. I loved being a cop and prior to my addiction, I believe I was very good at it. The sense of pride and self-worth I got from being a public servant was beyond description and my career became who I was – not just a job.

Over the course of my life and my career, I was prescribed prescription opioids multiple times. Usually for pulled teeth or other minor procedures and injuries. I always thought to myself, “I don’t know how people ever get addicted to these things”. I never felt any different and they never even seemed to take the pain away. More often than not, I would end up throwing the bottle of pills away before finishing them. It’s funny that later, during my active addiction, I would think about all of those times when I threw pills away and kick myself for not saving them.

One day in the mid 2000’s I hurt my lower back while exercising. It wasn’t a very serious injury and I thought that after a few days the pain would go away and I would be back to normal. However, the pain did not go away and I did not go back to normal. Finally, I decided to go see a doctor and was prescribed a combination of Vicodin and muscle relaxers to manage the discomfort. After one day of taking them, as prescribed, the pain went away and I stored them in the bathroom closet for over a year.

I didn’t give them a second thought until one day my young daughter wanted to play Barbie’s with me after I had just finished exercising. Not wanting to miss the time with her, I agreed and went to finish cleaning myself up before joining her at the dollhouse. I was feeling particularly sore after my work-out that day, so I decided to take one of the leftover Vicodin and wash it down with a beer. Looking back, this was the moment where I cemented myself a future full of pain and hardship. My choice on this particular day was the beginning of a journey that would end up costing me more than I could have ever imagined.

The feeling I got once that pill kicked in was unbelievable. It was a complete sense of well-being that was beyond compare. As I sat and played happily with my daughter, I had no idea that my life would begin to unravel. I was completely unaware that in a short amount of time I would become a full blown addict, incapable of thinking about anything other than where and how I would get my next fix.

The progression of my usage was a textbook example of how addiction works. Over a few weeks, I finished that bottle of Vicodin and then it was on to a bottle of Oxycontin that had been sitting in my closet for a few years. After those first two pill bottles, my frequency of use and tolerance continued to increase. At first, I was only using after work to help me cope with an unhappy marriage and lingering back pain from injuries and wearing a gun belt and bullet resistant vest every day. Eventually, I started taking a pill or two before my shift in addition to what I was already using at home.

My pain seemed to increase day after day and before long I was going back to my doctor and getting pills. It got to the point that he sent me to a pain control center for monthly epidural steroid injections. This was on top of my and monthly refills of Percocet. At one point during my stint in pain management, I was pleasantly surprised to find my monthly count of pills had been doubled! I have no idea how or why this change occurred, but I saw it as a blessing. When the pharmacist questioned me about the change in dosage, I went along with it and marveled at my luck. Since getting sober, I’ve often whose error it was that upped my dosage so much and why no one else caught it.

Regardless of how or why it happened, the end result was that my addiction to pain pills significantly worsened basically overnight. A prescription that was designed to last me a month, started only lasting a max of two weeks. The doctor’s office I was receiving pain management services through would randomly screen patients to ensure their system was free of other substances. They were also looking to make sure the prescribed substance was also present, to potentially prevent patients from abusing the medication in various ways. I had to lie my way through each random drug screen at the pain management office. I had a few excuses that I would rotate through when I was questioned about why the drug wasn’t in my system, when it was documented that it should have been.

I would explain that my concern over being involved in a shooting while on duty was preventing me from taking the medication at various times. I obviously didn’t want to have OxyCodone in my system if I was sent for a drug screen at work, especially after something like that. This one worked well when I was on a shift that had a much higher probability of that kind of thing. Another one I used was to play up the severity of my pain. I’d say that I had finished the prescription early after experiencing severe pain for multiple days. For reasons unbeknownst to me, my excuses worked and I continued going to my appointments each month and getting more pills.

My addiction quickly progressed and I was running out of Percocet in fewer and fewer days every time. When I ran out of pills, withdrawal would settle in and I would count the minutes until my next doctor’s appointment.

My role as a police officer included two things that I failed to mention earlier: I acted as my department’s evidence custodian and my department made a lot of heroin seizures. Typically, court orders dictated that I was to destroy certain pieces of evidence once cases were resolved but, I’m sure you can see where this is headed.

I knew that heroin was similar to the pills I had been using. All it took was a few days struggling with severe opioid withdrawal and I decided to take a stamp bag out of evidence that was slated to be destroyed at work. Looking back, this day marked the beginning of the end. I’ll spare you the gory details and just say – things got worse and I got very sloppy in covering up my use at work.

I went from only using the heroin that was scheduled to be destroyed to using the evidence involved in more recent cases that weren’t necessarily on the destroy list yet. Eventually, I completed the Herculean task of draining the evidence room of all its heroin. I started coming in on my days off just to

see if anyone had confiscated more so I could hopefully avoid going into withdrawal. To supplement my use, I was also stealing money from cases to travel to a nearby town and buy heroin from a prostitute I trusted. Please keep in mind that my use of the word “trust” only means that I felt pretty confident she wasn’t going to rob me at gunpoint.

I tried hard to keep my job a secret from her, but one day I ended up running in to her while on active duty and in full uniform. Shortly after our brief run in, she called me and asked if I was trying to set her up. I lied, claiming I had no idea what she was talking about and insisted there must have been a cop out there that looked a lot like me. That close call wasn’t enough to keep me from using. I continued and soon a small voice crept into the back of my mind. It would tell me that if I didn’t stop what I was doing, I would lose everything and end up locked in a jail cell.

Long story short, I didn’t listen. Things ended up getting so bad that I was reduced to looking for heroin residue on my basement floor so I could have just a little bit more of that magic powder. But that voice was quickly overruled by the one that kept telling me that all I needed was to snort a little of this powder and everything would be alright. Even though I was completely unwilling to stop using during this time, I knew that I needed help. I just had no idea where to turn. I was afraid of what would happen if I came clean, especially because of what I did for a living.

Turns out, I didn’t have to wait too long before I had no choice but to finally be honest about what was really going on. Just as I was finishing up the midnight shift early one morning, my chief and captain called me in to the office for a little talk. It turns out, they had discovered what I was doing and asked me to resign my position immediately. Knowing there was no way I could talk myself out of this one, I resigned and for the first time, in a very long time I went home without my badge.

I had no idea what I was going to do or how I was going to explain everything to my fiancé and the rest of my family. I had hit a new low. A few days later, the bottom dropped out from under me again when I received a visit from two PA State Troopers. They advised me of my rights and I decided to give them a full confession regarding the terrible things I had done.

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