Prescription drug abuse; not a victimless crime

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Amber E. N. Jacobs
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
I never imagined my whole world would be turned upside-down; but seeing my husband escorted away in handcuffs, I felt as if the world was crashing in around me.

It was love from the beginning. My husband and I met in technical school, eventually married and we were later assigned to Shaw Air Force Base where we worked as photojournalists for the Public Affairs office.

Just like any normal, married couple, we went to work, watched movies, had dinners and hosted game nights with friends. Our life together was pretty ordinary as a typical, newlywed couple.

During the winter of 2011, my husband started suffering from severe anxiety and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and was encouraged to see a doctor for treatment. After his diagnosis, he was prescribed several different medications as part of his treatment.

Little, orange pill bottles began to appear around the house, popping up in every room I entered. At the time, I didn't think much about it because I knew he was getting treatment and seeing his mental health doctor regularly.

When we had our first child that summer, my parents came down to South Carolina to see the new baby. It wasn't until then that my dad pointed out a change in my husband's behavior. He was acting withdrawn and spent the majority of his time alone in the garage.

I had been preoccupied with my pregnancy, and it wasn't until I took a step back that I noticed my husband's transformation. I tried to talk to him about it and he quickly dismissed the issue to work related issues and stress from the new baby.

A few months passed and I began to notice him acting more and more irregular; he wouldn't sleep for days at a time, and he barely ate, losing close to 40 pounds in a matter of months. Every time I would try to talk to him about it, he would shut down or get angry.

We began to drift apart.

After work, we hardly spoke or spent any time together, and he would never come to bed. He rarely wanted to spend time with our friends. Instead, he started hanging out with a new group of people and began distancing himself from the people that had always been there for him.

I felt isolated and alone. There would be so many nights that I would cry myself to sleep wondering what I did wrong or why I was being treated this way.

I had to take a stand because I loved my husband. I decided to talk to our supervisor.

Our supervisor and leadership reached out to my husband, but he was unresponsive to their help and continued to slide into a darker place.

There would be days he would fall asleep at work or come into work completely unshaven, looking sickly, and all I could do was watch him fall apart before my eyes.

As a family member watching someone you love and care about destroy himself and his career was unbelievably devastating. The most frustrating part was that nothing anyone said or did made any difference.

Rock bottom came one morning when I woke up to a phone message asking if I knew where my husband was. I searched the house frantically and could not locate him. My heart sank; terrible images of car accidents floated through my mind.

I learned later that morning he was discovered passed out in a parking lot with prescription pill bottles littered around him. When state troopers had finished searching his vehicle, they discovered that all of the medication was recently prescribed and the bottles were all empty.

The incident led to an official investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations that resulted in my husband having to face a court-martial, a reduction in rank, confinement, and discharge from the Air Force along with three of his new friends for illegally using his prescription medication.

I will never forget the day I had to prepare my husband's confinement bag with my first sergeant, just days before the court-martial. I sat there trying not to cry, making small talk with my first sergeant while removing the rank from my husband's uniforms with a pair of scissors, because I could not afford to take them to the tailor. Every stripe I removed felt like someone was taking those scissors and stabbing every piece of my heart, it hurt to breathe.

After sentencing, I just didn't know how to continue. I was seven months pregnant and taking care of a 1-year-old by myself. Eventually, my son and I had to move from our townhouse onto base because I could not afford our home on one income. Additionally, we had to file for bankruptcy because of my husband's decision to abuse his medication.

Overall, I felt embarrassed to get up and go to work every day. Whenever I went out on photo jobs or interviews, I felt humiliated because a lot of people knew my husband and me since our jobs took us all over the base and to every official function. Not only did he destroy his reputation, but he also hurt mine just for being his wife. Some days the shame would feel so intense I didn't know how I would make it through the work day.

A change in station, two years of counseling and a divorce later, I still have a hard time coming to terms with the impacts of my former husband's prescription medication addiction and abuse. Someone very close to me recently asked me why I was sharing this story since it was a very painful chapter of my life, and my response is this:

Looking back, in the military we hear a lot about illegal drugs and alcohol abuse, but we don't spend enough time talking about prescription medication and how dangerous it can be if it is abused, and what the impacts are if it is shared with friends. I wish I would have understood more about prescription drug abuse, the warning signs, and how to help someone that I cared about get the proper help.

It can start with just a little orange bottle and maybe an extra pill here or there, maybe you share your prescription headache or pain medication with a friend. After all, what's one little pill? But before you know it, it can spiral out of control. It can impact your family, your friends, your finances and your career.

Prescription medication abuse is real, it is illegal, and it is something not to be taken lightly. It is not a victimless crime; it affects everyone you love.