Casey Johnson, Johnson & Johnson heiress, Hollywood socialite and fiancé to internet star Tila Tequila was found dead on January 4, 2010. As of the publishing of this article, the cause of Johnson’s death has not been revealed; but among family and friends, Casey was known as a girl out of control. The person who found Johnson’s body and called 911 said, “Very often, her medication gets all screwed up.” Though no one is saying for sure that Johnson overdosed or had a drug problem, tabloids like RadarOnline.com report that Casey was abusing Klonopin, Valium, Xanax, Ativan, cocaine, marijuana and Ecstasy in the months leading up to her death.
Many of the drugs Casey Johnson was allegedly taking are perfectly legal. OxyContin is a powerful opiate painkiller. Klonopin, Valium, Xanax and Ativan are in a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. They’re taken to treat anxiety disorders. Though only available through a prescription from a doctor, these drugs are fairly easy to buy on the street and order online from illegal pharmacies stationed overseas.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ department of Alcohol and Drug Information reports that “over the past decade-and-a-half, the number of teen and young adult (ages 12 to 25) new abusers of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone (OxyContin) or hydrocodone (Vicodin) has grown five-fold (from 400,000 in the mid-eighties to 2 million in 2000).” This trend is shocking because nothing good can come from an addiction to prescription medication. The best-case scenario for a person who is hooked is a long, painful detox and recovery. The worst-case scenario is death. More and more people are learning this the hard way. Each year, about 20,000 people die from prescription drug abuse, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Prescription drug addiction is not just a problem for youth. In a study titled “Older Adults and Prescription Drug Abuse,” researchers found that older people take more than one-third of prescription drugs in the United States. Further, this population is likely to be “less compliant” with their medication and is at greater risk for developing substance abuse problems.
If you know someone who is addicted to prescription medication, the best thing to do is get them to go to a rehabilitation facility for detox and rehab. Opiates and benzodiazepines are notoriously difficult, and potentially dangerous, to withdraw from without the help of knowledgeable addiction specialists. Prolonged use of medications like Klonopin and Xanax need to be removed from a person’s system slowly. Abruptly withdrawing could cause seizures and death. And withdrawal from opiates is extraordinarily painful.
The sad fact is that the relapse rates for drug addiction is very high. SoberPlace.com, an online community for recovering drug addicts, reports that about 79 percent of people who complete drug recovery programs relapse. Approximately 69 percent of those addicted to narcotics use again within five years. Relapse, unfortunately, is part of the recovery process. All you can do is advocate for recovery. Like the interventionist Jeff VonVondern says in the popular A&E program, Intervention, “we’ll do anything to help you get better. But we won’t do anything to help you die.”