Pain caused his hellish descent
An on-the-job injury was the first step for a Holiday family man on his way to a jail cell.
By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
Published February 24, 2008
It's hard to imagine Brian Nelson locked in the Pinellas County Jail, bail set at a half-million dollars and a 25-year prison sentence hanging over his head.
At 32, Nelson is a married father of two little girls who lives in Holiday. He has a good job as a supervisor at an air conditioning company in Clearwater. He was raised in a good home and never had been arrested.
He is a thoughtful and funny man with a balding head, full beard and thick frame.
Yet there he was, stuck in booking for hours, hallucinating, vomiting and shaking as drug withdrawal gripped his body.
Here is Brian's story.
- - -
Before prescription painkillers, Nelson never abused drugs.
"I got drunk when I was 16 at my brother's high school graduation. When I woke up the next morning I felt so terrible I said it would never happen again.
"My parents are still married, still together," he says. "Had the best childhood ever. Me and my brother played sports our whole life, finished high school. I was on the fire department at first ... and chose to stick with the family trade because I made more money."
In 2005, he fell while carrying an air conditioning unit, causing severe back pain. Nelson's doctor referred him to a pain management specialist, who prescribed Vicodin.
"They call him the candy man. He prescribes me 10 milligrams of hydrocodone, 120 of them. Right off the bat."
The doctor suggested other treatments beyond painkillers, but Nelson said his insurance wouldn't cover anything but the pills. The drugs worked fine for several months. Then he started running out early.
"You have a 30-day supply and the next thing you know you're done at 15 days or 10 days."
Nelson asked his doctor to increase his dosage, which he did with little questioning.
His tolerance building, Nelson again began running out early.
"And that's the first time I had withdrawal. And it's nasty. Absolutely nasty. I had no clue. Then you start making the phone calls. Where can I get them?"
Nelson's source became a young man with whom he worked. "The kid" provided Nelson with Roxicodone, far more powerful than Vicodin.
"Once I started doing the roxies, Vicodins didn't really matter. I still got them. But once I got on the roxies is when I noticed everything was going downhill."
Nelson's wife knew he had a problem.
"My wife had back surgery. She was in a lot of pain. They gave her two more scripts. So I took her stuff. Didn't think twice about it. And she came home and she was like, 'What the hell is wrong with you?'
"I definitely built up a tolerance where I would start off my morning with a roxie, a 30-milligram, and two Vicodins. And I think by 10 o'clock I was popping another Vicodin or two."
Then his doctor closed the clinic.
"He was having so many problems with addicts coming into his office starting trouble, wanting a script. He closed his doors."
Nelson began buying drugs on the street, which cost $600 or $700 for one month.
The "kid" came to the rescue. He stole a prescription pad from a doctor's office and began forging prescriptions at a pharmacy. Nelson bought pills from the kid and his girlfriend, until they insisted he do his part.
"They said either you have to do it or we can't hook you up anymore. And at that point, it was do or die. I went and did it, didn't get caught and I was like, 'Wow, I just saved 600 bucks.' The first time I went, I handed in two scripts, 120 Vicodins and 120 roxies. No questions asked. In and out."
The pharmacy discovered the forgery as Nelson was preparing to turn in another prescription.
"They filled half of them and told me I had to come back for the other half. I knew in my gut it wasn't right. I felt like I was getting set up. And as much as I knew it wasn't right. I went in anyway. And when the cop came out and handcuffed me I almost felt relieved."
Nelson was booked on multiple drug trafficking charges. Bail was set at $540,000.
Without the 25 pills he had been taking a day, he went into withdrawal.
"It was so bad. I was hallucinating. I'm in jail. This can't be right. It's gotta be a nightmare. You ache all over your body. Sweat. Nausea. Trying not to puke in front of people. Just running to the bathroom. The third day I woke up sober. I sat up and kind of looked around and I'm looking at people I would avoid in the streets. And here I'm part of them now."
Nelson faced a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison. He spent eight days in jail before his bail was reduced. He didn't take any pills after his release.
Prosecutors offered him a plea deal of three years drug offender probation, which he took.
Nelson thinks patients and doctors need to be more aware of the risks of addiction.
"You have doctors out there who write the hell out of them and other doctors who truly know how addictive they are and really care about their patients and try to do everything else for you before they give them to you. I ran into a few of them during my addiction. I sit back and look at them now and say thank you. Those are the doctors we need to thank."