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воскресенье, 26 марта 2017 г.

Hooked on Hollywood’s legal highs

Forget cocaine and Ecstasy – now it’s all about popping prescription pills for kicks. The scourge of LA’s A-list has hit the UK...


Hollywood highs took their toll on Brittany Murphy and Heath Ledger, while Kelly and Lindsay have quit pills

Jo Cater clenches her fists as waves of anxiety and annoyance sweep over her. Her skin is clammy and her stomach is twisted in knots.
There's a knock at the door. Jo runs to answer. She grabs a parcel from the postman, then slams the door and rips it open.
The 28 year old hasn't been waiting for exam results or the latest must-have dress from an online store - her parcel is stuffed with the pills she needs to get through the day.
Jo, who works in a gym and hopes to be a personal trainer, is a prescription drug addict. Her pills are all medicines bought online from the States. She takes one to keep her happy, the other to stay slim.

She takes them without knowing the safe legal limit - and now can't function without them. These pills are cripplingly addictive and potentially lethal. Despite this, Jo is just one of a growing number of British women becoming hooked on prescription drugs and risking her life each time she pops one.
She takes Soma, a muscle relaxant, and Phentermine, an appetite suppressant closely related to amphetamine. Neither drug is available in the UK because they're not licensed for doctors to supply them. So she buys them from US websites, spending around £500 a month.
"When I first ordered the pills online last November, I never dreamed I'd end up addicted," says Jo. "But six months later I can't get through the day without my regular dose."
Addiction specialist Maria Clyne, says: "We're seeing a new type of drug addict emerge, they're not down-and-outs, committing crimes to fund their habit. They are ordinary people who've become hooked on very dangerous medicines."
Used and abused by celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, 23, - who went to rehab after taking the sedative Ambien - prescription pills are fuelling a new wave of drug use among young women.
"I'd read about stars taking them and it seemed glam. Let's face it, everyone wants a slice of the celeb lifestyle," says Jo.
But it's not just addiction that prescription poppers like Jo are risking. It's death.

After actress Brittany Murphy, 32, died last December, a haul of pills including anti-anxiety drug Ativan and antidepressant fluoxetine were discovered in her bedroom. While the coroner ruled the cause of death was pneumonia, "multiple drug intoxication" was a secondary factor.

Actor Heath Ledger died in January 2008 of an accidental overdose of a mix of prescription painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medicine. He was just 28.
"Self-medicating is extremely dangerous," says Maria. "Users run the risk of accidental overdose, and combining different drugs can be lethal. And when you buy over the internet, you have no idea what you're actually getting."
Jo, from Borough, south-east London, first began taking the pills in November last year.
"I developed a really painful muscle strain in my neck but despite appointments with an osteopath, I was still in agony. I could barely sleep," she says. "I became desperate."
A friend suggested she buy painkillers online and, after looking at some websites, she decided to try Soma.
"I'd heard about celebrities like Michael Jackson taking it, which did worry me. But when I read on the site how it relaxes muscles to help with pain, it sounded perfect. I couldn't see the harm in ordering it," she says.
But that's not where Jo's shopping spree ended. Keen to shed weight from her size-14 frame in time for a wedding, Jo bought Phentermine, an appetite suppressant, too.
"One of the sites showed before and after pictures of women who'd slimmed using it. The difference was amazing, and with the click of my mouse, I ordered some for myself. The total came to £250, which I put on my credit card," she explains.
 Six months on
For the past six months, Jo has been taking two of each drug every day. Worryingly, she admits she doesn't know what the proper dosage of each should be, so has no idea if she's running the risk of accidentally overdosing.
And although she's no longer in pain and has slimmed down to a size 10, she now can't function without it.
"Phentermine gives me a buzz, like I'm high. It makes me happy and I feel really energised," Jo says. "But now I'm addicted to that feeling, and my moods are dependent on it. I always make sure I have enough pills - the thought of not having that buzz makes me anxious."
Drugs expert Maria explains that many prescription drugs have mood-altering effects.
"They make users euphoric and confident, and people can quickly become dependent on how the drugs make them feel and behave. They can't cope without them," she says.
Jo admits her addiction has taken over her life.
"When I take my pills in the morning I feel on top of the world. But by lunchtime I've crashed. It's a super-high to a super-low and the only way back up is to take more pills."
The pills have left Jo with insomnia and she has had dizzy spells when she's combined the drugs with alcohol.
"There have been nights when I've barely had a drink, but I've felt really drunk with a spinning head," she says. "It can be scary."
But these downsides are minor compared to the risks Jo's really taking with these tablets - with side effects ranging from chest pains, breathing difficulties and an irregular heartbeat.
Ironically, Jo admits her drug addiction is completely at odds with her ambition to become a personal trainer.
"I'm aware how ridiculous it is that I want to work in health and fitness when I'm abusing prescription drugs. I know I need to stop taking them. I don't want to jeopardise my future.
"If one of my future clients came to me and asked about them, I would definitely warn them not to go down that road. It's not worth it," she says.
In her work with addicts, Maria has observed the devastating effect any substance addiction can have, and says prescription drugs, despite being legal, are no exception.
"It's like a tidal wave that sweeps through your life. Everything is affected and often destroyed," she says.
And Jo agrees. She spends a large chunk of her monthly wages on pills and has had to sacrifice holidays, new clothes and nights out to feed her habit. And her relationship has suffered.
"My boyfriend Ben, 34, is very anti-drugs and it's caused rows between us, especially when I snap at him for no reason," she admits. "He's worried about the damage the pills could do to my health and hates it that my moods change so quickly."
Jo insists she's determined to get clean and end her reliance on prescription drugs.
"If I'd known how they'd take over my life, I'd never have placed that first order," she admits. "You don't think of legal drugs as dangerous or addictive, but I've learnt the hard way that they are."



'Vicodin is like my best friend'

Nadia Starr, 33, from Hampstead, north London, is a part-time language tutor and student. She buys Vicodin, a powerful painkiller, online from the US. She says:
"I've been kidding myself about the seriousness of my drug problem, even though I take 10 Vicodin a day - five times the recommended dosage - and am thousands of pounds in debt. I've come close to getting addicted - some may think I already am.
I started taking Vicodin in September 2008. I was born with a painful joint condition that meant my left hip had never properly developed. Doctors decided to operate on it. At the time, I was training to be a professional dancer, but they told me I wouldn't be able to dance for at least a year while I recovered.
Desperate to get my life back to normal, I kept dancing. I was left in agony, but it was my own fault and I knew doctors wouldn't prescribe anything stronger than the codeine-based painkillers I was taking.

My friend Jennifer*, who lives in the US, visited me a few weeks later and brought Vicodin - an American painkiller - with her.
I'd read about celebs becoming addicted to it, but you never think it'll happen to you. After all, I had a genuine reason for taking it.
Within minutes of taking my first pill, my pain disappeared. I felt elated and relaxed. Vicodin was the key to getting my life back.
Jennifer left me 60 pills, but within weeks I'd taken them all, gradually upping my dosage to get a buzz. I panicked at the thought of running out so Jennifer suggested I order more online. I was shocked at how easy it was.
There were hundreds of websites - and thousands of people in prescription drug chat rooms doing the same as me. This made it feel normal and, more importantly, safe.
Now I spend £300 a month on pills. I've maxed out credit cards and run up thousands of pounds worth of overdrafts. I ignore my bank statements - they make me anxious.
Doctors have said my op was a success and I shouldn't be in pain now, but Vicodin's become a psychological crutch for me.
I get snappy if I haven't taken enough Vicodin. It makes me a nicer person. But I do sometimes wonder how much of my personality is me, and how much is Vicodin.
I haven't told family and friends about my problem as I don't want to worry them.
I'm planning to wean myself off Vicodin over the next three months. I want to be free, but it's been a big part of my life. Saying goodbye to it will be like losing a best friend."



CELEBRITY PILL POPPERS


1. Former wild child Kelly Osbourne, 25, kicked her addiction to painkillers, including Vicodin, after her third stint in rehab, in January 2009.
2. Lost Boys actor Corey Haim, 38, bought hundreds of prescription drugs, including Vicodin, Valium and Xanax, in the weeks before his death in March.
3. Glamour model Anna Nicole Smith died in February 2007, aged 39, after an accidental drug overdose of sedative chloral hydrate, which became lethal when combined with four other drugs in her body. In all, nine types of prescription drug caused her death.
4. Singer Robbie Williams, 36, has admitted he was "24 hours from dying" in 2007 after taking a cocktail of prescription drugs, including Vicodin and the amphetamine Adderall, at the height of his addiction. He checked into rehab on his 33rd birthday and kicked his habit.




The expert's opinion
Dr Scott Wylie (right) is the lead addictions consultant at The Priory Clinic in Glasgow. He says: "Prescription drugs are as addictive and lethal as illegal drugs. As people 'chase a high', they take more, until they become hooked.
The drugs are prescription-only for a reason - medical supervision is needed to protect users from addiction, as well as serious damage to their health, and even death. Vicodin contains paracetamol and an overdose of this can result in fatal liver failure. Stimulants such as Phentermine put pressure on your heart and can cause a heart attack.
When you self-medicate you don't know which drugs are safe to mix, and taking them with alcohol is also dangerous. Other side effects include insomnia, paranoia, hallucinations, psychosis and stomach ulcers.
On top of that, if you buy drugs online, you have no idea what you're getting - for all you know it could be rat poison."

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