Injuries occur frequently in law enforcement, but you might already know this on a firsthand basis. Depending on the seriousness of the injury, there are various ways it might be handled. Sometimes it’s just a scrape or strain — a couple of aspirin or ibuprofen work wonders, and maybe a bandage or an ACE wrap is necessary. But when the injury causes excessive pain or just won’t go away, something more is what the doctor ordered. With or without surgery, medications such as Vicodin, Norco (a more potent formula of Vicodin) and naproxen are just a few of the options that may be prescribed to take away the pain. When used as prescribed, these medications can help alleviate pain that hinders recovery from the injury.
But pain medications can also bring on a whole new set of troubles if we are not careful. While some people don’t like the side effects of nausea or lethargy they experience while using these meds, there are many more who feel pain-free and then some. The latter circumstance can lead some to use the medication more often than prescribed because the pain is so intense, or the good feeling is way too good. If it gets to the point where we can’t do without the medication because the pain comes back (or we think it comes back), we might try to get the medication, or a close substitute, just to get rid of the pain.
You might know about a time when this happened, but let me share this story of a onetime FBI agent, Matthew Lowry, who was “out of pills and getting desperate.” According to livengrin.org (a website run by an addiction treatment and rehab center in the Philadelphia region), Lowry was prescribed pain medication, not for an injury, but to ease his chronic and painful inflammatory bowel disease. Though his doctor noted that the problem had resolved, Lowry experienced withdrawal (e.g., vomiting, sweating, tremors, muscle pain, restlessness) when he no longer had access to his prescribed medication. Having remembered a suspect once telling him that snorting heroin was “just like taking a pain pill,” he began stealing heroin seized by the drug task force he was part of. Lowry reportedly took heroin nearly every day for the next year. He was caught when he was found incoherent and unable to drive, sitting in his FBI-issued car in an empty construction lot.
As reported by multiple news outlets, Lowry’s misconduct tainted investigations and forced prosecutors to dismiss cases against 28 drug defendants, 25 of whom had pleaded guilty but were subsequently freed from incarceration. At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan noted that Lowry took heroin not “to play around,” but after he had become dependent on prescription pain medication used to treat a medical issue he was experiencing. As a result, he identified Lowry’s addiction as a mitigating factor that justified departing from sentencing guidelines that recommended a sentence of seven to nine years, instead sentencing him to three years in federal prison.
Lowry’s career as a special agent is over, but maybe there is something we can learn from his experience. It is possible that his career could have been saved if he had sought help. If any of these behaviors sound familiar, seek assistance by calling Psychological Support Services at (213) 738-3500 and have a confidential conversation with a licensed psychologist or me, Deputy Braggs, SARP coordinator. There are also numerous Peer Support members and chaplains in our Department who can help, along with the POF members listed here. If you’d prefer to seek help outside of the Department, talk with your insurance provider. The most important thing is to get the help you need so you don’t find yourself in a similar situation to former agent Lowry (or worse).