Prescription addiction: a significant risk to Autistics

When I was using alcohol and drugs, a lot of them were illicit substances or novel psychoactives. But there was a group of drugs that made up the bulk of my drug use, and that was prescription medication.

Specifically I was addicted to opiates, benzodiazepines, and a lesser known drug called pregabalin.

My use of these drugs was extremely out of control. I would start my day with a full bottle of either liquid morphine or liquid oxycodone. I would continue to top up with slow release oxycodone throughout the day.

I would take around 200mg valium a day, not to mention the clonazepam and lorazepam that I was also prescribed.

Pregabalin was probably the most out of control. I would take up to 4000mg in a single dose. All of these drugs were mixed together, and I overdosed frequently.

These drugs were especially insidious because I could get them free on NHS prescription, and I was incredibly good at manipulating doctors.

Prescription drugs represent a huge risk to the autistic community. Even if you don’t feel you can navigate the (often) peculiar social rules of obtaining illicit drugs, it is likely that you can get prescription medications relatively easily (although in some countries, the cost may be prohibitive).

Opioids like morphine, oxycodone, and vicodin, are especially worrying. As an autistic person, something about them made me feel at peace with the world. They would turn down the background noise, easing my senses. It was like being wrapped in a warm blanket with rose coloured glasses on.

They made everything feel okay.

What I couldn’t see, but became increasingly obvious to anyone watching me, was that these drugs were killing me. Even today at nearly 5 years sober, I live with the damage that prescription drug addiction did to me.

I remember my doctors switching me to opioids mixed with paracetamol in an attempt to curb my use. I simply taught myself to extract the opioids out of the mixture, and threw out the paracetamol.

Unfortunately it was an imperfect process, and my liver still carries the damage.

This is why I believe that a mental health assessment needs to be carried out when prescribing addictive medications. If we are aware of the risk of addiction, we can watch more carefully for the signs of misuse.

It scares me thinking about how many Autistics may be using prescription medications for reasons other than what they were prescribed for. Their lives could very well be at risk, if not now, then in the future.

We need realistic drug and alcohol education that teaches us how to use substances responsibly, rather than teach abstinence; an unhelpful and often unobtainable goal.

Doctors need to be more aware of traumatised populations when prescribing certain medications.

The social issues that amount to addiction need to be addressed.

Until this is done, the autistic community will continue to be at risk. The next tragedy could be someone you know and love. Addiction can come for anyone.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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