How Heroin Came for Middle-Class Moms

Hayley Krischer:

Donna* is from the suburbs. She says so proudly. A really nice town not far from Philadelphia. Donna grew up in a nice middle-class family. She wrote poetry. She had shoulder-length blonde hair and a job at the board of social services.

Today Donna is in a group therapy session at Family First, an outpatient substance abuse program for women.

In 2011, after she gave birth to her son Marco*, now six, a doctor prescribed the then-25-year-old Donna Oxycodone and Xanax for chronic back pain. Donna paid the doctor in cash. It was a “pill mill,” where doctors doled out prescriptions like candy. Her family knew that she was taking a lot of pills, but it wasn’t some drug dealer she was seeing. This was a doctor, after all. And the pills helped. Still, her mother didn’t like it. Her mother thought it was going to lead to something else.

This went on for a while, taking pills without any real issue. And then in 2013, Donna got into a very bad car accident. More prescriptions. Severe depression. A suicide attempt. A stint in rehab. Someone reported the doctor at the pill mill to the DEA and the place shut down. Maybe things were looking up.