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A Caller Reflects On A Decade-Long Struggle With Substance Abuse

Oxycodone Acetaminophen tablets. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Oxycodone Acetaminophen tablets. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

With John Harwood

Toward the end of our show that looked at a Massachusetts court case that could change the landscape of the criminal justice system, J.J. from Nashville, Tennessee called in and told us of the complexities behind addiction, relapsing, and probation.

(Transcript lightly edited for clarity): 

J.J.: “I’ve been struggling with substance abuse for the past 10 years. And one of the things that’s devastating to me, and always has been, is that I love my children, I love God, but it’s just not enough to keep me clean. It’s not enough to make me stop. And I’ve always struggled with that thought.

So you go, you get stopped by the police and you go to jail because maybe you have paraphernalia in your car, or something of that nature. You get in jail — there’s plenty of drugs in jail, number one. Number two: then you get out and you’re on probation, and part of the stipulation is that you have to stay clean, and you’re going to get drug tested.

You’ll comply with everything you have to for your probation except that one thing: you’ll still do drugs. And you know that your date is coming up to go in for your drug test, so you panic. And either you find some type of substance that will take it out of your system, or you just don’t go. So now you’re ‘on the run.’ And so they catch you again. They catch you, then there’s no compassion — it’s never done based on an individual’s feelings or what their situation is, it’s always just across the board: you violated, you’re going back to jail, period. So it’s this unending cycle.”

Harwood: How do you feel about the role of free will, self-control, versus the idea that people are simply overtaken by something that they cannot control?

J.J.: “I think there’s some validity to [people being] pre-disposed to addiction and substance abuse. Because I can see it running through the family, like alcohol. I don’t know if that’s valid or not, but it seems to be true to me.

I struggle — I want to stop. I want to be a ‘better citizen of the world,’ but I can’t. I mean, it’s not that I can’t. I guess, no, it is —  I can’t. And I’ve truly tried. I’ve been to rehab. And I call rehabilitation isolation. I know people that have been in rehab for six months, and you look at them, and [say] ‘Oh, they’re so strong, you know they’re going to do well.’ And the very day they get out of rehab, they relapse. I’ve seen this time and time again. The gentleman said ‘Oh, I just decided that I’m going to stop, and I just stopped.’

In all of these 10 years, I’ve seen two people who were able to do that. And I know a lot of people, we sit up late at night [and] cry to each other about how horrible we feel and how miserable we are, and how we want to stop, and everyone cries, and the next morning they’re back out there again looking for money for drugs. Another thing: you’ll find people in court because they’ve been stealing, and they’ve been stealing to get money for their drugs. One thing begets the other.

And I don’t rehabilitation is necessarily the answer either. Because you can be there so long, and then get out and relapse right away. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what the solution. I think it’s a combination of environment, something physical, and something mental. It’s just a combination of those things. And I, honestly, if I knew what the solution was, I would use it.”

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