Prescription painkillers approved by the federal government and used effectively by millions of Americans are also increasingly being abused recreationally, authorities say, with a spike in the number of people seeking treatment for addiction to pain medicine in recent years. Young men between the ages of 18 and 34 have experienced the largest increase in New York State in the last three years. Here are two stories from Long Island.
A choice made in high school
Matthew Callaghan just wanted to play football.
When he hurt his knee in 2001, Callaghan, then 15 and a sophomore at John Glenn High School in Elwood, opted against season-ending surgery and instead for extended rest with prescription painkillers.
Nine years later, Callaghan said, he remained addicted to oxycodone and other prescription narcotics.
"It progressed from me taking one here or there, to taking two or three," Callaghan, now 24, said. "Then I started chewing them and then crushing them up and sniffing them and then shooting them in my arm."
Callaghan said the pills were easy to obtain from physicians to whom he said he lied about back pain.
"I could carry [the pills] around, no problem," he said. "I didn't have to worry about getting arrested. I had a prescription with my name on it."
He eventually began using heroin, too, and could no longer pay for his habit, even with a full-time job cleaning pools. He said he committed a string of burglaries in Elwood last year, was arrested and charged.
Last month, Callaghan checked into Phoenix House in Hauppauge for a treatment stint of at least six months, in a court deal to avoid jail.
"By being positive and helpful here, I hope that carries over into my normal life on the outside," said Callaghan, who said he wants to become a drug counselor after completing rehab.
'It felt good'
A broken leg ended Brian's college basketball career. But he soon saw the injury as an opportunity when he was prescribed oxycodone.
"It felt good," said Brian, 34, of Massapequa, who spoke on the condition that his last name be withheld because he feared it would hurt his chances to get future employment.
"I basically realized that, with a leg injury, I could get prescription pills whenever I wanted," he added. "It was a free ticket."
Brian said he knew he was addicted about eight years ago when he became engaged and his fiancee forced him to stop smoking marijuana. "I started eating pills and she didn't know," said Brian. "I thought this was great. I can have it all."
Though the couple married, the marriage ended abruptly in 2005 after she found the pills and confronted him, he said.
The next period of his life, Brian recalls, "was like walking through a fog. The drugs just wipe years out of your life." The 1999 business management graduate from Adelphi University started spending $175 a week for 90 oxycodone pills.
In December 2008, Brian said he was high when he crashed into two parked cars on a Massapequa street. He was charged with aggravated driving under the influence and landed at Phoenix House last month to avoid jail after a probation violation, he said.
He now wakes up at 6 a.m. daily, helps run the treatment center's schedule and is looking forward to finding a job when he is released.
"Not only do I want to be successful, but I want to put my money toward settling down," he said. "Toward good things."