He was only 14. He didn't know a pill could change his life.
"It started as a recreational thing; on the weekends, parties," the teen said.
Snorting prescription painkillers seemed harmless to John, who asked we not use his real name. He-- like many teens-- didn't see the danger with these medications.
"The first time I was at a friend's house and he had got some from his parents' medicine cabinet," John said. "I was under the impression that if a doctor prescribes it, it was somewhat safe."
John, like thousands of Vermonters hooked on prescription opiates, never dreamed it would lead to a life of addiction. But quickly experimentation with Vicodin and Percocet wasn't enough. Before he finished high school John graduated to snorting OxyContin.
"I would spend 400 to 500 dollars on a night," he said.
An entire week's paycheck was funding his daily habit. The money was running out and he couldn't stop. John was no longer chasing a high but using the drugs to get through the day, keep his job and avoid getting dope sick.
"I would do an Oxy 80 then 20 minutes later do another half and then 20 minutes later do another half; vomit, nod out and keep going," he said.
"It's made to be a long-acting drug. You can just take it once or twice a day and have good pain control over a long time," explained Dr. Stephen Leffler, the chief medical officer at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.
OxyContin is the brand name of a time-released pain medication called oxycodone. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1995, the narcotic became a miracle pill for chronic pain patients. By 2001 it was best-selling non-generic painkiller on the market. U.S. sales topped $2.5 billion in 2008. In Vermont today it's the most widely abused drug behind alcohol. More than 2,200 people sought treatment last year-- 15 times more than a decade ago.
"What people figured out was if you crush that pill up you can have a rapid high from that medication," Leffler said.
Addicts say if you have the cash and know where to look scoring pills is easy.
"I knew people who doctor shopped." John said. "Somebody broke their leg, broke their arm, they would take what they needed for a couple days then sell the rest... And then I knew other people who would go and have teeth pulled to get the pills to sell them."
Black market sales of diverted prescription pills are big business in Vermont. On the street, Oxys sell for $1 per milligram. For an addict, it's an expensive high.
"An opiate is an opiate," said Bob Bick of the HowardCenter. "If you can't get the prescription drug, you're going to look for something else."
"For someone that's addicted to opiates, to pills, heroin is cheaper," Vt. State Police Capt. Glenn Hall said.
And since the chemical composition of heroin and prescription opiates is the same, health professionals say average people who never thought they would be addicts are bouncing between the drugs. Police say that's driving the resurgence of heroin in Vermont.
"What we're seeing is users who are interchangeably using prescription opiates or heroin, whatever is available, whatever's cheapest," said Barbara Cimaglio of the Vt. Health Department.
John's intense fear of needles kept him from shooting up. But when he learned purer heroin could be snorted, he was hooked.
"It was the same effect as the OxyContin but times 10," he said. "I was doing 10 bags a day."
John says it was usually easy to get.
"And even if you couldn't find it, you could just take a ride for four hours and go get it," he said.
The highway to heroin leads many Vermont addicts to Massachusetts; Springfield, Holyoke, Boston and Lowell. There the smack is cheaper-- $5-$7 a bag compared to $30-$35 in Vermont.
"I could take $70 and turn it into $300 if I wanted to," John said.
He hooked up with a few other users and they started trafficking the drugs across state lines to support their own addictions. But their luck was running out.
"I know two people who overdosed... I got paranoid that it would trace back to me," John said. "About three months later my connection in Massachusetts got busted by the feds."
He calls heroin the devil's doorway; opened by a prescribed addiction even if the doctor never intended for the drugs to end up in his teenage hands.
"Whatever you have for good things in your life right now-- that will take it," John said. "Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the next week. But you'll lose it. You'll lose it all."
John is just one of the thousands of Vermonters who struggle with opiate addiction. Vermont ranks second only to Maine for per capita admissions for painkiller treatment.
Saturday, March 8 2014 9:49 PM EST2014-03-09 02:49:49 GMT
The Burlington Yoga Conference began Saturday at UVM's Davis Center. The event gives participants a chance to connect the mind body and soul through workshops they may not have access to on a daily basis.More >>
The Burlington Yoga Conference began 6 years ago and has become a staple in the community.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 9:29 PM EST2014-03-09 02:29:17 GMT
A warning for pet owners in our region. Coyotes are on the prowl. A biologist in New Hampshire says he has received more than 10 calls recently, in the Keene, New Hampshire area, for a deer that was takenMore >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 9:21 PM EST2014-03-09 02:21:44 GMT
As spring approaches, many Vermont homeowners prepare to work on their houses - so they head to the Burlington Home Show. And many Vermont small business owners - with their products and services on displayMore >>
Many business owners at the Burlington Home Show say the new health care system in Vermont is helpful, but some say it's causing a real headache.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 8:07 PM EST2014-03-09 01:07:08 GMT
A rally at the State House in Montpelier Saturday. A passionate group of dozens of women, and men, assembled in front of the State House Saturday for the Women's March for Dignity. They were demandingMore >>
Women's March for Dignity say they are demanding lawmakers support paid sick day policies for all workers.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:21 AM EST2014-03-08 15:21:27 GMT
Two firefighters are recovering from minor injuries. They were injured while fighting a at the Bennett Farm on Route 15 on the Johnson-Cambridge town line. The fire started in a shed around 7:30 FridayMore >>
Two firefighters are recovering from minor injuries.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:20 AM EST2014-03-08 15:20:42 GMT
Friends are rallying around families who lost everything in an apartment building fire in St. Johnsbury. They immediately took to Facebook after hearing about this fire and started planning to collectMore >>
Friends are rallying around families who lost everything in an apartment building fire in St. Johnsbury.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:20 AM EST2014-03-08 15:20:05 GMT
Reporter: "What are some of the most common burn injuries that we see with kids coming into the hospital?" Jim Esdon, Dartmouth Hitchcock Injury Prevention Center: "This time of year, the glass frontedMore >>
We've had another cold week that's left homeowners cranking the heat. But what does that mean for kids' safety?More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:19 AM EST2014-03-08 15:19:21 GMT
Armed with just two L rods, 87-year-old John Wayne Blassingame starts looking for water by asking yes or no questions. "Does it go past 20 feet, does it go past 30 feet, yah," he says. The rods crossingMore >>
A national organization based in Danville says it is providing resources to people in desperate need to find water.More >>