YORK, Maine – Jason LaPierre had been down the rabbit hole of prescription opioid pill addiction for more than two years when he finally came clean to his wife. He had a job that paid well, responsibility, kids at home; but by then the fissures were widening – paying bills was a struggle as he had to fund a $60 a day habit, the lies were many and growing.
“I wrote her a letter and came right out and told her,” he said, recalling precisely the Nov. 15, 2010 date he took pen to paper. “If I had to buy thousands of dollars a month worth of pills, I wanted to get better.”
What he thought would be catharsis, though, was anything but that. “I thought if I told her, I would be on the road to recovery. Instead I went off the rails, and I made her part of my secret,” he said. His addiction worsened, getting up to a cost of $400 a day at the end, and when he finally wrestled that demon to the ground, he picked up the demon of alcohol.
It would be 2015 before he came to terms with all of it. By that time, he’d lost his house, his job, his dignity. Amazingly his marriage remained in tact. And today, his family is pivotal, as are his addiction support group meetings, as he works one day at a time to put his life back together. He is going to community college to earn a degree in computer science. He’s fully engaged in the lives of his wife and children. At 36 years old, he is looking forward to the future.
“If you focus as much on sobriety as you do on addiction, there’s nothing you can’t do,” he said.
And he’s speaking out, he said, because his is a cautionary tale. “Someone has to be willing to put their face out there. I want people to see I’m doing alright. If just one person reads this and it changes their life, I’ll be happy.”
One pill in 2008
LaPierre grew up in Sanford, in a “pretty tumultuous” family. His stepfather was “a very high functioning alcoholic” who brought emotional instability into the house but who also instilled in LaPierre a strong work ethic. These two threads would mark LaPierre’s life for years.
As soon has he could get a work permit, LaPierre had a job. He wanted to get out on his own, to build a future based on a foundation of hard work, good credit, home ownership. And he accomplished all that early in life. Marrying at 21, he and his wife lived with his in-laws in York while they saved for a house. Several years later, they moved into their own place in Waterboro.
“I was pretty clean. I’d have a few beers watching a Sox game, but I pretty much focused on my own thing,” he said.
He admits that as a teenager, he experimented. At 13, 14 years old, he started smoking marijuana but stopped because it made him feel paranoid. He drank on weekends “as high school kids drink.” He dropped acid once. And he took Darvocet, his first narcotic pill. He remembers that experience today. “The best way to describe it is invincible. I was happy, and I could move through the day like a plow,” he said. It was a feeling he would become familiar with again.
In 2008, a mechanic moved in next door to his Waterboro home. By now, LaPierre had a good job working as a residential cable installer, and would later be promoted to a maintenance technician. “All the bills were paid, there was a new car in the driveway. I was doing well,” he said.
One day, the neighbor handed him a Vicodin, a narcotic pain pill containing hydrocodone – a weaker prescription narcotic pain reliever than the oxycodone that would soon take over his life.
“It was just random,” he said of his decision to take the Vicodin. “Life was already good, and it made me feel better. I don’t think he was intentionally getting me hooked to make money. It was just a social thing, like drinking a beer, while we worked on cars together.”
It was, however, the beginning. He would get some pills initially just when he went on vacation or on the weekends, that wonderful feeling of invincibility the draw. When he started wanting more and his friend started to charge him, he went to a doctor and faked a strained muscle. “It was the first time I lied. I didn’t have pain. I just had the memory of how good I felt. I was already justifying my addiction,” he said.
‘This is weird’
The one or two pills a day before long became five and six. “I said, ‘This is weird. I feel like I need it.’ So one day, I left them at home as an experiment. I went home at lunch and took some more. That night, I only had two left and I said, ‘I’ll just go to bed.’ I woke up later with the sweats and restless leg syndrome.’” His addiction was costing him $20 a day.
He went online, did some research, learned he was taking an opiate. “From that point on, the decision I made to continue was an informed decision.” He would also learn as time went on that Vicodin and later Percocet contained acetaminophen, which in large doses caused liver problems. That couldn’t be good, he thought. In his addiction, he rationalized it would be better to go to straight oxydcodone.
By 2010, time started to get bleary, he said. He had earlier found “the BJs of drug dealers” who supplied him with everything he needed. There was little high anymore. It was just a maintaining. He took the pills orally until someone told him about the immediate high obtained from crushing and sniffing them, and it worked briefly, that feeling of invincibility returned.
“When you fall in love with someone, you would do anything for them,” he said. “I was in love with it. And it loved me so much, it wanted me to take more.”
He was a scientist, mixing this dosage with that dosage. Years ago, he’d had migraines and had doctors’ records to prove it. “That’s all I needed,” he said. Completely pain free, he went to a pain clinic and was given a prescription for oxycodone. A month’s prescription lasted two-and-one-half weeks. He went to another pain clinic. The dosage was increased. He’d sell and trade to feed the addiction. They wanted to perform surgery, he demurred.
By this time he’d been promoted at work, and was earning $30 an hour. He could afford it, he thought.
Mortgaging a life
After his wife found out, she started managing his pill consumption, hiding the bottle. “I made her part of my addiction. I begged her for more. ‘Come on.’ I was like a child begging his mother for candy. No matter where she hid them, I’d find them. We started arguing.” And he always had the streets.
Meanwhile, he started ignoring the mortgage, borrowing cash advances on his credit card, taking 10-12 pills a day. When the pills ran out, he turned to vodka. Finally, one day he “went into complete meltdown mode” and sought help from his father. Soon, he was on Suboxone, which contains a drug intended to reverse the effects of narcotics. He started seeing an addiction therapist.
And he turned full-time to alcohol.
By 2014, he’d lost his job after someone reported seeing him going into a package store while driving a company van. “I started drinking more. I was pretty much done with the pills, but now I was going full bore with the alcohol.” He cashed in his 401K, going through all of it. He got a low paying job but lost that, too.
On May 28, 2015, he remembers, “I was speaking suicidally. I said I wanted to shoot heroin and walk into the lake. I wanted to die. I punched a hole in the wall. I broke plates. None of this I remember,” he said. His wife called the York County Sheriff’s Department. “The sheriffs were really nice. They’re on my amends list now,” he said.
He blew a 4.3 on the breathalyzer.
A bed was found in the detox program at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. “On the second day, I learned I was going to see a psychiatrist. I said, ‘that’s kind of neat. I probably need one of those.’ I started going to groups, I started recreational therapy, I started learning about all the things that drugs and alcohol were doing to my body. I had my own counselor. I had my own case worker. By the third day, I was determined to beat it this time.”
After leaving, he enrolled in York Hospital’s Cottage Program, an intensive program that involves almost daily therapy session, and even more addiction support group meetings. He started taking Campral, which helps with alcohol cravings, and Vivitrol, which would cause him to go into immediate withdrawal if he started taking opioids again. The family moved back with his in-laws in York, who are again helping out as he starts on a new life.
He goes to daily support group meetings now, making the coffee for his home group as an insurance policy to ensure his attendance. He takes several recovering heroin addicts to meetings because they don’t have cars. He’s mentoring a friend just out of jail who’s in detox.
And he’s done, he said. He knows he’s done.
“You’re never cured. Right now, I have no desire to drink or use. It never crosses my mind unless someone asks me about it,” he said. “No one can ever say never, but I feel 100 percent like I’m not going back to it. My sobriety is No. 1.”
Among the Southern Maine groups that have formed to support those who seek to recover from heroin and opiate drug addiction are the following:
Out of the Shadows, Shining the Light on the Heroin Epidemic: Started by the Fielders family of Eliot after their son died of a heroin overdose, it looks to create a community voice of support. For more information, visit their Facebook page.
Young People in Recovery: This national organization started specifically to support young adults has recently started a Biddeford chapter. For more information, visit their Facebook page, YPR-Biddeford, ME.
HOPE for the Seacoast: Kittery, Eliot and York police departments have agreed to assist addicts who come into the station looking to get into treatment. For more information, contact Eliot Police at 207-439-1179; Kittery Police at 207-439-1638; or York Police at 207-363-4444