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News » Cover Story

Highway to Heroin

Oxycontin Users Take the Road To a Faster, Cheaper High.

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A Winding Road to Recovery
Mark Van Wagoner accidentally swallowed Drano as an 18-months-old toddler – his first “issue” with chronic pain. In his 20s, a doctor regularly prescribed him 20 Lortabs a month.

“I held to that 20 pills a month for years,” says the 55-year-old Van Wagoner, who hosted the morning slot at KSL-AM radio for years before a new management team replaced him and several others in 1998.

“I felt so lost,” says Van Wagoner. “That’s when I started using heavy.”

Van Wagoner went from 20 to 50 Lortabs a month. He discovered a fellow addict in a dentist who had bought advertising time on local television. “He would write two prescriptions. I kept one and gave the other to him. My prescriptions never ran out. I knew every pharmacist from St. George to Pocatello. I made sure I didn’t go to the same one twice.”Van Wagoner’s supply of prescriptions kept coming, and he never felt the urge to move to heroin. But his drug connection eventually grew tenuous.

Van Wagoner is certain the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was tracking him by the time he checked himself into drug rehab in Arizona. Like so many others, he relapsed after doing a media job in Atlanta and finding his way to pain pills. He was drinking, too—a deadly combination. “My body was about ready to give out. My wife told me to get ready to die,” he says.

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He decided to embrace a line credited to actor Tim Robbins: “Get busy living or get busy dying.” Van Wagoner found Discovery House, a Salt Lake City outpatient clinic. He began methadone treatment, under medical supervision. “People who use methadone as a recovery tool must abide by very strict standards; constant urinalysis and weekly sessions with a licensed counselor to get even a single does of methadone,” he says. It doesn’t work for everyone and, like pills or heroin, can be abused. Strict supervision and regular drug testing are essential to methadone treatment, he says.

“Methadone doesn’t give you a rush. It just takes the edge off and makes it so you are not sick. You can work. You can drive. It doesn’t affect your balance or your vision—it just makes you OK.”Van Wagoner says he is alive because of Discovery House. “I am here to pay taxes, tuition, house payments and provide for a family because of the program. My wife and best friend of many years is still my wife and best friend, not a widow, because of my methadone program.”He has his own radio show on KDYL-AM, writes a column for Utah Spirit magazine and volunteers in the LDS Church Family Services Substance Recovery Mission. “There is hope and health out there, if you are willing to work for your sobriety. It’s nice to walk past a pharmacy and not get chills.”

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