'Pill Head' On Prescription Drug Addiction Journalist Joshua Lyon decided to investigate the phenomenon of online pharmacies. Drugs such as Valium, Xanax and Vicodin arrived in the mail. Pill Head is the story of his subsequent hard core addiction to the medications.

'Pill Head' On Prescription Drug Addiction

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. Neal Conan is away. I'm Lynn Neary, in Washington.

Ten years ago, purchasing prescription painkillers was a click away through online pharmacies that asked few, if any, questions. Writer and journalist Joshua Lyon decided to investigate the phenomenon, and pretty soon drugs like Valium, Xanax and Vicodin arrived in the mail. Lyon decided to take his curiosity beyond his journalistic assignment. No stranger to experimenting with drugs, he began popping the pills. It was the start of a hardcore addiction to prescription drugs.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription medicine is the second most commonly abused category of drugs, ahead of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. Right now, with the death of Michael Jackson, we're hearing more about access and addiction to prescription drugs, especially among celebrities. Today, Joshua Lyon is here to talk about his memoir: "Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict."

Later in the hour: What can we learn from the much-discussed arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates in Cambridge? But first, the life of a painkiller addict. Are you, or have you ever been addicted to prescription drugs? Or do you know someone who is? How do you deal with your addiction? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. The email address is talk@npr.org. Or you can join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joshua Lyon joins us now from NPR's New York bureau. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JOSHUA LYON (Writer, Journalist): Hi. Thank you for having me.

NEARY: Let's start out by talking about how you got addicted to painkillers. You were working on this assignment, but you also had a history of experimenting with drugs. So, was it really a case of the drugs being just so easy to get at that time, that you couldn't resist?

Mr. LYON: Well, I think that's why the use continued, is because it was so incredibly easy. And also, when I first started out using painkillers, I found that I could go to work high and nobody really noticed. It wasn't like I was reeking of pot. I wasn't constantly sniffing because I'd just done cocaine. I just felt incredibly good and euphoric inside, and I was able to do my job without anyone noticing.

NEARY: So this was a different kind of drug experience than anything you'd had before?

Mr. LYON: It was a very different kind of high. Like you said, I definitely have tried pretty much every other drug out there, and nothing compared to how good I felt on painkillers.

NEARY: So was this the first time that you ever really - we've said you experimented with drugs, but was this the first time you ever really became addicted to a drug?

Mr. LYON: Yes, definitely.

NEARY: Yeah. And you got involved with these drugs out of curiosity, but a lot of people do get addicted to these kinds of drugs because they are prescribed for pain or they've had some kind of surgery. Is that the most common way for people to become addicted to painkillers?

Mr. LYON: Well, the interesting thing about this drug is that there are so many different entry points. Yes, it's definitely one that you're being prescribed for a legitimate purpose and you find yourself becoming physically dependent, but you can also buy them from regular drug dealers. I think pills are now such a part of the culture, you can even just be out at a party and a friend will offer you one. That's certainly happened to me plenty of times.

NEARY: And you mixed these painkillers with drinking and other kinds of drugs. I mean, it was a party drug for you. This is not just like, you know, I've got a pain in my back and I need to take a painkiller. And the next thing you know, I'm addicted.

Mr. LYON: Yeah. You know, I would - if I did drink on them, the next day, if I was really hung over, I would use that as kind of an excuse to take even more pills, because I was actually legitimately in pain at that point.

NEARY: Well, that - I think that's what was interesting about your story to me, because I think I'm somebody who has always kind of associated this kind of addiction with exactly that situation I've been describing, which is somebody sort of almost inadvertently getting addicted to prescription drugs because they started to have to take them for a certain situation. But that's not the - as we've said, there's different entry points. But what is the most common one? Is it your experience, or is it the other?

Mr. LYON: I think my experience was unique in that it was a journalism assignment. But, yes. I do - I would say probably the majority is from people being either prescribed for a legitimate reason, or possibly overprescribed by a doctor. But the problem with this particular drug epidemic is that we can't fight it like any other because even if there are doctors out there who are overprescribing, these medications are still very, very important and must be made available to people who are living with chronic pain. So it's not like we can just go after the source.

NEARY: Yeah, we should talk about what these drugs are. They're opioids. Am I saying that right? I don't even know if I'm saying it right.

Mr. LYON: That's correct.

NEARY: Okay, so they're opioids. Now, what are opioids? I mean, how do they affect you? You were saying this was different from any other drug that you'd ever taken and that you could go to work the next day and everything was cool. But - so what are they? What do they do?

Mr. LYON: They - basically, they replicate endorphins in your body, in the simplest of explanations. And so they bind to receptors in your brain and release this rush of what feels like endorphins causing that, like, euphoric feeling. And what it felt like for me was this really wonderful, warm wave kind of pulsating through my body. Some people have really bad reactions, though, and I think that's another reason why there are so many pills out there to be diverted. Say somebody gets prescribed Vicodin for wisdom teeth removal. They get home, they take their Vicodin. They don't like it. It gives them an upset stomach. So they put it away - aside in the medicine in the medicine cabinet, and it's just sitting there, waiting to be picked up by somebody who comes into the house and knows what that person is actually holding.

NEARY: What about something like Xanax? That's something different.

Mr. LYON: It is.

NEARY: And is that something that people also get addicted to?

Mr. LYON: Yeah, definitely. Xanax and Valium are different. They're anti-anxiety medications. Opiates and painkillers are different - are a different class of drugs. But they are used together a lot, and that's - that can be incredibly dangerous. Painkillers shouldn't really ever be used with any other substance that affects the central nervous system. So that can be other anti-anxiety medications. It can be some SSRIs, your regular antidepressants, but - especially alcohol. That's incredibly dangerous.

What people, I think, don't realize is that in a lot of cases when people OD from a painkiller - from using too many painkillers, it's not necessarily because of the painkiller itself. It's because it was being taken in conjunction with some of these other substances.

NEARY: And, you know, I think I was a little bit taken aback, shocked by the amount of things that you, sort of, would put together. I mean, it seems, at times, you were taking an incredible amount of these drugs with alcohol.

Mr. LYON: Yeah, it's pretty bad. Well, what happened…

NEARY: How did you not kill yourself? That's what I was wondering.

Mr. LYON: Well…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LYON: It was - I mean, this was after a period of building up a tolerance. I mean, after a while, you know, I started out just taking three Vicodin a day. That went to four. That went to five. Eventually, it was up to 10 just because what happens is - and, like, what I think a lot of other substances, you develop a tolerance. And in order to get that euphoric feeling, you need to take more, otherwise you're just kind of plateauing and getting to a base-level high. So I would take Vicodin, and then I found if I took delodid on top of it - which is a stronger form of painkillers - then I could actually reach the initial euphoric highs that I was getting in the beginning.

NEARY: Well, clearly, this must be what leads to overdoses, eventually, that…

Mr. LYON: Yeah.

NEARY: …people are just taking are just taking so many, trying to get high.

Mr. LYON: Definitely. Well, and - also, another thing that can be really that be really dangerous is if somebody gets clean, goes into detox and then comes out of it and they've been off of, you know, whatever they're taking for while and they go back to try and take the same amount that they were used to, and their body isn't used to having that same amount. That can be incredibly dangerous.

NEARY: All right. We are talking with Joshua Lyon about his book "Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict." We're going to take a call from Dave, calling from Mammoth Lakes, California. Hi, Dave.

DAVE (Caller): Hi. How's it going?

NEARY: Good. How are you?

DAVE: Good.

NEARY: Go ahead.

DAVE: I'm calling because I've had a history of alcohol and cocaine abuse, addictions. It was in my early - my teens and 20s, and I'm 46 now and I've been sober for about 20 years or so. But I've had a number of major surgeries, including back surgery, knee surgery, appendicitis. And during those - you know, after those surgeries, I've had prescription drugs like Percocet or Vicodin or whatever, and, you know, they help me with the pain at first, but then the pain was gone after a while, and I still finished those bottles off. You know, I finish the bottles to the last pill, whether I need them or not. But I think since I have - I was able to stop drinking and using cocaine cold turkey and haven't for 20 years, I think maybe I have some sort of willpower to just stay away from it after, you know, that…

NEARY: You finish the bottle, and then you don't try and go out and get more. You haven't tried to go out and get more. Thanks for your call, Dave. Go ahead, Joshua.

Mr. LYON: I'm glad he brought up the concept of quitting cold turkey because if somebody is listening right now who's currently addicted to painkillers, they shouldn't try and stop cold turkey. That's incredibly dangerous. What you should do is speak to your doctor about slowly weaning off or go and find a detox program in a hospital.

NEARY: And why is it so incredibly dangerous?

Mr. LYON: You'll go into withdrawal, and withdrawal is probably the worst experience I've ever had in my life, and I went through it several times. You get incredibly nauseous, upset stomach, headache, muscle cramping, cold sweats. I always - what it felt like for me is just this icy blade scraping along my bones and, you know, just twitching uncontrollably on the sofa for about a week. It's not fun.

NEARY: All right, let's take another call. We're going to go - we're going to take a call from Matthew(ph), and he is calling from Tennessee. Hi, Matthew.

MATTHEW (Caller): Hello.

NEARY: Go ahead.

MATTHEW: Well, I was just interested in the subject, and I thought it was funny the way the author has gone about the research and that it was a journalistic effort in the beginning and quickly became a hobby and then a lifestyle.

I, too, was a user of painkillers and the benzoate, the Xanax, Valium, that sort of thing, both by way of prescription and the street, as it were. And I went through treatment a couple of times and would go on extended periods of sobriety, and in the end would go back to the drugs, but at my age, which is 34, have stopped taking them but still find myself with the cravings, which is what, you know, is tough for me now.

I don't really have a recovery program, but I don't use drugs anymore. But I still have dreams about them, that sort of thing. There might be a comment there. Thank you.

NEARY: Okay, thanks, Matthew. Does that happen with you, too, Joshua?

Mr. LYON: Absolutely. I mean, I've been just over a year out of rehab now, and I still have cravings all the time, I mean, pretty much every day. The only way that I deal with it is I walk through it in my head. I remember where I was a year ago and how incredibly miserable I was and just know that I don't ever want to get back to that point again. And it's easy for me to try and trick myself to think that, like, oh, just a few pills today because it's, you know, a special day for whatever reason wouldn't hurt, but I know that I wouldn't be able to stop just there.

NEARY: I was surprised when I realized that you were still using the drugs while you were researching and writing this book.

Mr. LYON: Yeah, I had a really bad relapse after turning in the first draft of the book and ended up going into rehab and was terrified that I was actually going to lose the book deal. And, you know, made my agent promise she wouldn't tell my editor that I was in rehab, and she eventually found out and asked me to incorporate the rehab experience in the book, and that was incredibly recent. So where that book ends is actually pretty close to where my life is actually now.

NEARY: We're talking with journalist Joshua Lyon about his memoir describing his addiction to painkillers. We're taking your calls at 800-989-8255. Send us an email to talk@npr.org. I'm Lynn Neary. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. We're talking with author Joshua Lyon about his book "Pill Head." It's a memoir of his prescription drug addiction. If you want to read about how he got started, head over to our Web site at npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we want to hear from you. Are you or have you ever been addicted to prescription drugs, or do you know someone who is? How do you deal with your addiction? Give us a call at 800-989-8255, or our email address is talk@npr.org, and join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joshua, we mentioned that you started this as an assignment, as a journalist. You were researching how easy it was at that time to get drugs online. And let's talk about how people do get access to these drugs because it's not - that is - it's not as easy over the Internet anymore, right? I mean, that's now being looked at and regulated.

Mr. LYON: Very, very carefully watched and regulated, yeah. It's trickled down to the - your typical drug dealer now. Most people that I know that are still using get theirs from drug dealers, or they're lying to their doctor to, you know, say that they still have a lot of pain, when in fact they don't, which is unfortunate.

NEARY: Well, you know, with the death of Michael Jackson, of course, we're hearing a lot more about addiction to painkillers and with some celebrities. Jamie Lee Curtis, for instance, is talking openly about her addiction. Why do you think that this has become such a sort of popular drug?

Mr. LYON: I think there's a couple of reasons. The first one being that initial availability through the Internet. You know, as more people got access to the Internet, the more - I first got into it just because of spam email. I kept getting spam email saying, buy Vicodin, no prescription needed. And I started hearing about it in pop culture a little bit.

The year before that happened, that movie, "The Ring," came out. In the beginning of the movie, the two high school girls, they're not looking to raid their mom's liquor cabinet; they're looking for where she hides the Vicodin. So I'd been hearing about it a little bit here and there. So you had the Internet. I think after 9/11, and drugs - your typical drugs became a little bit harder to get across the border so that there became - there was more availability there for people getting drugs they would be able to get high from, you know, here.

And I think one of the reasons that they - especially, I think, celebrities get involved with them is for the same reason why I stayed on them so long initially, is because you can actually function pretty highly, you know, at least in the beginning part of the addiction. You know, as I mentioned earlier, there aren't as many obvious signs that somebody is abusing painkillers as they would be if they were doing coke all the time.

NEARY: We're talking with Joshua Lyon about his memoir, "Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict." We're going to take a call now from Adam(ph), who is calling from Ventura, California. Hi, Adam.

ADAM (Caller): Hey, how are you guys doing?

Mr. LYON: hey.

NEARY: Good.

ADAM: Good. Hey, I had a quick question for Josh and just a quick comment, as well, on what you guys just said as far as why it may be so popular. I think in my experience, I'm 23, I've got about a year clean now, but you know, my friends never said much about it. If you're - you know, if they find out you're doing heroin, it sounds pretty bad, but, you know, Vicodin's in pretty much everybody's medicine cabinet.

Mr. LYON: Absolutely.

ADAM: Turn the other way for it. But Josh, I was wondering, like I said, I got just about a year now, but the first six months, I was on Suboxone that my doctor from the detox program I checked into prescribed. But I wasn't entirely - I wasn't informed that there's actually a pretty harsh detox off of that, as well. So it was kind of a nasty little surprise to find out I had to do it all over again, and what your opinion about Suboxone or drugs like that was?

Mr. LYON: Absolutely. Well, when I first got turned on to Suboxone was when I was in rehab, and what I discovered - well, let me back up.

NEARY: What is Suboxone?

Mr. LYON: Yeah, sorry. Suboxone is a partial analgesic. It's a partial opiate, which is buprenorphine, which has been prescribed before to help people get off of painkillers because it's a lower dose, and you can wean - supposedly, you can wean off it faster or without as many withdrawal effects.

And Suboxone is that same buprenorphine, but it has something called naloxone added to it, and naloxone is a substance that will knock the opiate off of your receptor. So you can't - so it kind of levels out in your system. So you're taking an opiate, but at the same time, it's not binding to your receptors as much as a normal opiate would.

What I discovered when I was first given it in rehab, and I had found this out from my research initially, when I was working on "Pill Head," is that if you take Suboxone, and you haven't had any painkillers in your system for about 24 to 48 hours, you will get high initially from the partial opiate that's in there. But what happens is that you take it, you level off, and then you don't feel anything.

So when I first started in rehab, I knew that, and I would hide my Suboxone and use it to get high while I was in rehab. I would save it for special treats, like when we went on an outing, like if we got to go to a movie, so I could get high at the movies.

When I got out of rehab, I went back on Suboxone with a much more regulated way and weaned off without too much trouble. I'm actually currently weaning off of Suboxone right now again. I went back on it a few months ago because I was having so many cravings, and I was getting scared that I would relapse. And I'm down to - it hasn't been - this time hasn't been as bad.

I tried going off it cold turkey, and definitely I got sick, and as I've been weaning off these past few weeks, it's been much, much easier. So I would suggest to anyone who's on a Suboxone program, and you want to get off it, just take it slow. Just cut down to three-quarters. Take three-quarters for a week. Take a half for a week but also make sure you're in communication with your doctor, whoever prescribed you the Suboxone. Make sure you're talking to your doctor about going off it.

NEARY: I want to read an email that came in here from Nancy(ph) in Cleveland, Ohio. She says: Your guest said that he could take prescription drugs, go to work, and no one would notice. That's what he thought. Others most likely observed a person - this is going to get to a serious place - but others most likely observed a person who seemed to be stunned, groggy and/or in la-la land. I should know. I watched my husband take painkillers for two years before he finally died of an overdose.

So that's clearly addressing the issue of denial, and what can finally happen here?

Mr. LYON: I'm really sorry that that happened. I think that that also has something to do, though, with - again going back to body chemistry. Everybody reacts differently to these medications, and yes, that will happen to some people. The effects will be, the side effects of that kind of grogginess will be very, very obvious, but there's a large population that doesn't get that initially.

NEARY: But I would think as you got more and more addicted to them and more and more having to, you know, you had to take more and more of these in order to get the high that it became more and more obvious to people around you, I would think.

Mr. LYON: Yeah, definitely after, when I started working - when I went on my relapse, after turning in the first draft, and I was really, really getting worse into it than I'd ever been before, that definitely - it was really obvious, and my friends could definitely tell at that point. It was just pretty much in the beginning that people weren't able to tell. You're absolutely right.

NEARY: All right. Let's take a call now from David(ph), who's calling from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hi, David. Are you there, David?

DAVID (Caller): Hello.


DAVID: Yes. I just sort of was hoping that perhaps the author might briefly discuss the fact that there's a stigma between illegal street drugs and prescription drugs because they're manufactured by a pharmaceutical lab and such. And yet it's the same - an opiate is an opiate, and as he described, the withdrawal is the same, and - but there is a stigma that exists.

And then, the second point is that I've just noticed with addicts, when their addiction is full-blown, then that's when the pain really sets in, and they need a painkiller just to get right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LYON: Yeah.

NEARY: Yeah.

DAVID: If you might discuss those two issues.

NEARY: All right, thanks so much for your call, David.

DAVID: Thank you.

Mr. LYON: Well, about the first part of that, there's this - he's right. There's this complete presumed element of safety around painkillers. And this actually goes back to the other caller from California, what he was talking about.

There is this assumption that somewhere down the line, it came from a doctor, and therefore, it's going to be good for you. It's good for you, but he's also right in that these are basically synthetic versions of heroin and morphine. They're - and they're actually much cleaner versions and much stronger versions than you may get if you're going out and just buying a street bag of heroin.

NEARY: Do you know if the medical community of doctors are working on developing pain medications that don't have such a strong psychological effect, that…?

Mr. LYON: Yeah. I've been - I have read that drug manufacturers are looking for painkillers that won't have that much of a drug dependency issue around them or a physical dependency issue around them. I'm not sure how far away we are from that.

What people are really focusing on is creating vaccines for addiction. This is something that I read about in Newsweek about a year ago, where some people are claiming that, you know, in a few years from now, somebody may be able to get a shot, and then they will never feel the effects of cocaine, if they try and take cocaine.

NEARY: Let's take a call now from Tom(ph), and Tom is calling from Louisville, Kentucky. Hi, Tom.

TOM (Caller): Hi, how's it going?

NEARY: Pretty good.

Mr. LYON: Hi, Tom.

TOM: Well, I just - I've been an addict since - off and on since I was 14 years old. I'm 48.


TOM: I was arrested for selling class three narcotics when I was 12. Taken from a friend's father's - was a doctor. He had boxes of samples in his closet.

Mr. LYON: Mm-hmm.

TOM: And I saw it, stumbled across it - living in rural Georgia, a pretty meaningless life, really nothing to do. And I really, I guess, I wanted to say that it seems like the times that I've relapsed over the years have been when my life has been meaningless or when I had a false sense of success. It figured it's - it's the two extremes.

Mr. LYON: Mm-hmm.

TOM: You know, like, everything's going great now, so I can breathe easy and I can relapse.

Mr. LYON: Well, that's not a false sense of success. It's probably meaning that you were having success and you were probably feeling like you didn't deserve that success. That's something I think is typical with a lot of addicts, unfortunately. But I know what you mean about wanting to relapse and falling into those traps, I'm sorry.

TOM: Right. Most recently - I thought you'd find this very interesting. I've recently separated from my wife of 20 years and I really hadn't relapsed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LYON: It's good. Good.

TOM: Yeah. I really hadn't. I was doing pretty good for six or seven months. And I was in a restaurant and a couple with their child in tow started talking to them. And at some point of the conversation, the mother felt comfortable whipping out a bottle of Oxycodone…

Mr. LYON: Yeah, wow…

TOM: …and going, hold out your hand. And I was just like, this is bizarre. And it's just - and it hit me, I guess, Joshua, it really has become like alcohol or something. It's like…

Mr. LYON: Mm-hmm.

TOM: …oh, here. And this was like a mother, father, you know, two urban -suburban professionals and it was just…

NEARY: Now, that's an interesting point, Tom. And I just want - I want - thanks so much for calling. And I want Tom - Joshua to just respond to that. Again, we've heard this several times, which is there's not as much of a stigma attached to this. And there is a sense…

Mr. LYON: Yeah.

NEARY: …and I think you can refer in your book on one of those people who thought, well, you know, addiction to painkillers, you know - somebody has a backache, they'll get over it. And it's much worse than that.

Mr. LYON: You know, it's funny, when I was doing interviews at the DEA's office, the person who brought me up to do the interview even admitted to me in the elevator that within the DEA, a lot of the agents were like, oh, the Office of the Diversion Control, that's like nowhere near as fun or exciting as the office of the heroin or cocaine.

NEARY: Even in the DEA.

Mr. LYON: Yeah.

NEARY: Yeah.

Mr. LYON: I didn't put that in the book.

NEARY: Joshua Lyon is the author of "Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Pain Killer Addict."

And you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Joshua, let me read this email. It says - it's from Louis(ph) in Florida. And he says I'm amazed there is talk of staying clean from drugs without talk of Narcotics Anonymous. I've never seen anyone stay clean, and your guest is a good example, from opiates without using a 12-step program, particularly NA.

Now, you have been in the 12-step program.

Mr. LYON: I have. I…

NEARY: And what do you…

Mr. LYON: I personally, I have mixed feelings about it. I definitely got a lot of help and support from NA and AA in the beginning. And I totally support the programs. I think it's true that they are one of the only programs out there that have shown to be incredibly helpful for people - that they do work.

For people who don't necessarily - or a little bit scared off by AA, I think what they're scared of is this idea of a higher power. And I think anybody who's an addict is usually really disconnected from any kind of spiritual side. So that's a really scary thing for them to dive into. They think it's going to be a lot of talk about the spirits or what have you.

There's a really fantastic Web site called thesecondroad.org, which is a social networking site for people who are in recovery. And their basic philosophy is whatever works. So there are people in there who are in AA and NA, and people who aren't, but they're able to just talk and communicate with each other and help each other stay sober. Yeah, I find that to be a really good resource for people who are scared off initially by AA.

NEARY: Joshua, a couple of emails here that I guess I'll just summarize. But really, these are people who are concerned about relatives. One from Dan says, can you talk about how to help a relative who seems hopelessly addicted to painkillers? My cousin has been in and out of rehabs and is currently in jail due to drug-related offenses.

Mr. LYON: Yeah.

NEARY: We've watched him spiral out of control over the past few years, and no amount of reasoning ever seems to help.

And as I said, there's a few emails here asking how to help somebody, how do I know if they're addicted?

Mr. LYON: Yeah. It's a really common question. Well, how you can tell if somebody's addicted, I mean there are certain warning signs to look for. One of the other - somebody had talked about, the acting sluggish, that's definitely one. Constricted pupils can be another. Kind of losing track of their thoughts when they're talking. Itching is a really big one. A lot of people have - get itchy when they take opiates. So somebody's scratching a lot. In addition to all these other things, that's probably a pretty good indication that they're using.

And in terms of what to do for a family member, it's really, really hard. I mean, the only answer I have is constant, constant communication and do not give up.

I mean, I had people who knew I was addicted, and nothing really got through to me until one friend just happened to say the right phrase. And it was - this phrase just hit home really hard. And what she told me is that the light was going out of my eyes, and I knew that she was right. I just felt dead whenever I looked in the mirror. And for some reason, that one phrase is what hit me. And so, I would say, just keep at it and something that you say hopefully, hopefully will eventually get through.

And if - oh, sorry. Go ahead.

NEARY: I just - I was just going to say there's one last email here I want to read and to have you respond to. This is from Catherine(ph) in New York. Pill addiction is such an old story. I grew up in the midst of suburban house where I was addicted to Seconals in the early '70s. They had headaches. People checking out is not a new phenomenon. Why do you talk about this like it's new?

Mr. LYON: Well, the painkiller, yeah, it's not new. She's absolutely right. I mean, think of "Valley of the Dolls." I mean, this was - I forgot what exact year that was, but, yeah, pill addiction has been around for decades.

It's getting a lot of attention right now, I think, to be honest, because celebrities are coming out of the closet as painkiller addicts, and some are unfortunately dying. I think the media is jumping on it a lot because of that, but I'm going to complain because it's just going to raise more awareness about the issue.

NEARY: All right. Joshua, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. LYON: Thanks for having me.

NEARY: Joshua Lyon is author of "Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict" and he joined us from NPR's New York bureau. Coming up, President Obama called the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. a teachable moment. We'll look at what we can learn.

I'm Lynn Neary. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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