Ins and outs (Part 4): Pills

In high school, Jo had surgery to remove a tumor located in her thyroid gland. The surgeon at Children’s Hospital must’ve clipped a wrong chord because she lost hearing in her right ear. After surgery, she was left with a large visible scar near her collar bone. This scar was painful so the doctor prescribed my 15 year old sister pain pills. Eventually they stopped prescribing, and I think that was probably somewhere around the time when she started using heroin.

After a doctor cuts off a patient from prescribed synthetic opiates, also known as Oxycodone, Luratabs, or painkillers, it’s already too late for the patient because their life is pretty much over. Their bodies are already chemically addicted to these substances and without them their central nervous system will go into a withdrawal state that they simply cannot control. After a doctor decides to stop the prescribing of opiates, then the turned addict has the only hope of ending their withdrawals through heroin that they find on the streets because it is the only alternate source of opiates.

I have been told by many addicts that their justification in doing hard drugs like heroin lies within the fact that it leaves your immune system quicker than it does for less harmful drugs that can’t kill you like weed, which takes thirty days to leave your system without showing up on a drug test. Scientific studies have proved that it is not physically possible to overdose on weed and that it is the only known substance to actually reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression, which makes you wonder why it’s not medically legal, even if not to just pay off the billions of dollars in national and state debt that we have seen is possible with the billions in revenue that’s produced from medical marijuana in places like California and Colorado.

When Jo was 15, she dropped out of school and started dating a 21 year old whose family lived in Beau Chene. The biggest neighborhood in Mandeville, they once tried to get their own zip code because they thought they were like Beverly Hills with their large golf course, country club, and boat marina. Jo’s boyfriend worked for a moving company that she told me could get any drug except for weed. I remember hearing about how he got busted with at least 100 “tabs” of “X.” Keep in mind that each one of those pills when caught with is equivalent to one count of manslaughter. Everyone said that he must have ratted to get off because he did not spend much time in jail at all.

One night, when I was 12, he showed up at our house totally loaded on pills telling Joanna that he needed her to stash some drugs for him because he was going to get in trouble. Being the young junky that I was, I found the multi-colored pain pills Luratabs—pink, blue, green, yellow, whites, and even ones that were like blue with green dots in them—with a big bag of weed and buried all this in the backyard. Joanna begged me to give them back, but I denied I knew anything about it until a month later, when I thought the coast was clear. I ate some of them and sold some, too. Much later, I found out that that guy had dragged her by her hair through the woods because he thought that she had stolen them from him.

Self portrait by April Curran.

Divine intervention must have kicked in because a girl’s older sister called the cops on me for giving her sister half of an Adderal pill. The cops picked me up right as I was about to leave her house in Tanglewood. This was my first encounter with the law.

They cuffed me to the counter in the station in Covington while they looked through their pill identifier book to identify all the pills. They asked me where I got them from and I lied telling them, “I got them from some black guy in New Orleans.” They believed me and eventually released me to my mom because they said they didn’t feel like filling out the paper work to send me to juvenile jail.

My mom was shocked that they had me hand-cuffed to the countertop for eight hours and wouldn’t even let me use the bathroom. Later, I was sentenced to juvenile probation and drug court. When I went to court, they appointed a public defender to me for the price of 40 dollars. The public defender told me that I had to plea guilty so that I could go on probation and drug court instead of jail.

They say that to a lot of people, and that’s why our parish has the highest rate per capita of people being convicted for petty crimes related to drugs. Drugs like pain pills, anxiety pills, and muscle relaxers like Lortabs, Xanax bars, and Somas were all transported in from Houston, which is just a six-hour drive away on Interstate 12 from Mandeville. People could go there to a place like a Redi-Med and be prescribed giant bottles of each at the same time for up to a 500 count of each pill. They came back to Louisiana and “flipped” them to anyone willing to buy them for multiple times what they had originally paid in Houston.

After my first offense, I had to call the number for the Juvenile Drug Court everyday to hear if they called my color, which was brown. If they said it, then I had to have my mom take off work and bring me up to Covington after school. My mom had to pay out of pocket for each drug test. This can add up to a lot for a single mother who doesn’t earn a lot of money to begin with. At the drug testing building, the bathroom smelled like stale urine. You had to have yourself be recorded on camera using the bathroom, and an old lady would get on the loud speaker and scream in your ear, “Keep one hand on the wall!”

The tests could be required for up to seven days of the week. If you drank an energy drink before hand, took a multivitamin, or had an “inadequate” amount or temperature of piss, then you would be considered to have tampered with the test, and fail, which would be reported to your judge for further consequences and fees. “They treat it more like a corporate business because that’s what they are successful at,” Matt says, “making money as a business.” The courthouse, for example, went from a tiny little building in Covington to a gigantic, brand new, fancy courthouse.

I had to report to court once a week. Other kids who I had smoked weed with were standing next to me with their parents. They wore khaki pants and white-collared shirts. Most kids’ parents were either divorced or working most the time, or sometimes both. Sometimes they would be handcuffed and hauled off to jail. The judge didn’t even care if it was Christmas time. You could see the heartbreak and tears in their parents’ eyes.

Part 5: Caught in the system

Editor’s Note: This story is one of a series reprinted from the book A Guide to South Louisiana: Stories of Uncommon Culture. Each author was a student in Rachel Breunlin’s “Storytelling and Culture” course for the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Orleans in the Spring of 2017. The Neighborhood Story Project sponsored the project as part of its mission to publish collaborative ethnography in high quality books in which the authors receive royalties for their creative labor.


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