Tag Archives: drug abuse

Dad’s trouble with Talwin

Last week, I wrote about how Dad ruined Mom’s first Mother’s Day by landing in the hospital for foot surgery. He ended up in a tremendous amount of pain from the procedure.

In walked Talwin. It became my dad’s new best friend and my mom’s worst nightmare.

Talwin (Pentazocine) is intended for moderate to severe pain and actually had been tested by several legitimate organizations in the 1960’s which had lauded the drug for its non-addictive properties. Well, Dad and some heroin junkies looking for a cheap fix proved them wrong. “Ts and Blues” was all the rage briefly circa 1978. Some enterprising heroin addicts had found that by crushing up Talwin along with an over-the-counter antihistamine (tripelennamine—the pills were blue) and injecting it, they could produce a high similar to heroin. Dad was terrified of needles, so I’m sure he stuck with the pill form.

Mom swears Talwin was banned at some point. From my research, it seems another drug, naloxone, was added to Talwin to block the drug’s use recreationally, which caused its illicit use to plummet, therefore the drug remains legal. Perhaps Mom is just having some wishful thinking. According to Mom, while Dad was in the woozy grasps of Talwin, he somehow managed to work and pay the bills but he would park the car in the middle of the street. When he was at home, he would sleep. And sleep some more.

Eventually, he ran out of any refills he might have been given for his recovery from foot surgery. He went with Mom to the doctor to beg for more pills. The doctor refused. Dad tried to wheedle some more drugs out of the doctor, but the doctor just looked over at Mom, who said nothing but nodded to show she supported the doctor’s decision. Dad had Mom wait outside and he went back in for a final plea. Rejected again, he walked out, angry and in need of some T’s.

Ultimately, he switched from T’s to V’s, as in Valium, until he gave up his pill popping phase for good. Well, that is, until he was fed a steady stream of mind-altering drugs in the care center at the end of his life. Of course, pill addiction now has reached epidemic levels in the U.S. We were fortunate as a family that Dad was able to escape from the cruel jaws of addiction back in the 1970’s.

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Dad doped up at the nursing home

I saw this article the other day about Johnson & Johnson paying out a $158M settlement over Risperdal. I took notice because unbeknownst to us, dad had been prescribed the generic version of this drug (Risperidone) at the assisted living facility he resided at for ten months. The drug is to be used in treating adolescents with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. The FDA has not approved this drug for use in the elderly with dementia, but it is commonly used anyways, and is legal to do so. In these cases, studies have shown an increase in stroke risk and an overall increased risk of death. The list of common medications Risperidone can interact with is disturbing as well.

Dad and I at the assisted living facility, March 2011.

I’m sure nursing home staff would defend their use of such medications as a way to keep patients calm and safe, especially when aggression and violent outbursts can be a symptom of Alzheimer’s and related dementias. My mom never liked the fact that they could wander in and out of each other’s rooms, but what was the other option, lock them up like animals in a cage?

I clearly remember my first visit to the facility where my dad was living. It had a separate, secure wing that was just for dementia patients called the “memory care” unit. I’m not sure what I expected to see, I guess something closer to an asylum than a daycare. But what I saw was eerily comforting, a bunch of seniors just sitting around calmly, while workers scurried about, cleaning up bladder and bowel accidents and doling out the meds that no doubt kept these patients in some twilight state somewhere between being stoned and being in a coma. I’ll venture a guess that dad wasn’t the only one being given Risperidone on a regular basis.

When I first saw my father, I couldn’t help but think of a zombie. He was shuffling down the hallway, wearing a gray t-shirt which had a noticeable wet spot on it (later I learned it was from his constant drooling) and Scooby Doo pajama bottoms and canvas slip-on sneakers. At first, I could not believe it was Dad because Dad had never owned a pair of sneakers, and he certainly did not lounge around in boy’s pajamas festooned with cartoon characters in his former life as a normal person. But the bony frame, the steel-tinted shock of hair and the eyes, still emerald green but no longer gleaming, that mouth set in a tense slash of determination, those all belonged to my father. I walked slowly to him, wanting to run, afraid he would vanish into thin air, then chiding myself for wishing that he would, to be put out of this benign yet suffocating version of hell. Instead, I said, “Hi Dad,” as naturally as I could and as his eyes searched mine in some feeble attempt at recognition, I wrapped my arms carefully around his fragile and stiff frame, while whispering raggedly into his ear, “I love you.”


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