American Consequences - September 2018

Normal people, contending with chronic or acute pain, being treated by accredited medical professionals. Gallego’s father begged the doctor to stop prescribing OxyContin. His mom tried to hide his pills. Gallego couldn’t get his addiction under control. Eventually, it cost him his life. Coroners found lethal levels of oxycodone in his blood when he died in 2012. The Los Angeles Times told Gallego’s story in a 2016 article on the nation’s growing problem with OxyContin. He was one of many. And all of those stories are similar to his... normal people, contending with chronic or acute pain, being treated by accredited medical professionals. They received legitimate prescriptions to ease pain from surgeries or injuries... prescriptions that became abused over time. Opioid addicts aren’t just “partiers” or “bums.” Many times, they’re normal people looking for relief. According to a 2016 study, around 30% of Americans suffer from some form of acute groggy Ernest. He slept all the time. Often, he couldn’t even stand up straight. He had become an addict.

Ernest Gallego’s policing career ended the moment the tow truck slammed into his patrol car. The accident inflicted permanent back injuries that left Gallego struggling with chronic pain. As a Los Angeles police officer, Gallego was credited with saving lives. He had once even rescued two motorists in a severe flood. But during the two decades that followed his accident, Gallego underwent multiple back surgeries. And he was treated with various pain medications. Eventually, he was prescribed the painkiller OxyContin, a slow-release pill containing oxycodone. Oxycodone is also the active ingredient in medications like Percocet. More important, oxycodone is an opioid, a highly addictive narcotic drug one-and-a-half times more powerful than morphine. Drugs like this have properties similar to opium and heroin. Oxycodone and hydrocodone (the active ingredient in Vicodin) are semi-synthetic opioids that bind to receptors in the brain and spinal cord – lessening the perception of pain. And when these drugs were developed back in the 1990s, they promised that relief. But they also unleashed a tragedy... Within a year, the meticulously neat Officer Gallego had become the unkempt and

By Bill McGilton


American Consequences 49

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