Tonawanda News

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May 18, 2013

Down the rabbit hole

— Eighteen-year-old Michael Israel never wanted to get hooked, he didn't even want to get high.

Israel, a UB student studying architecture, suffered from Crohn's disease, a painful digestive disorder. When it required surgery a few years ago, his doctor prescribed hydrocodone for the pain.

The addiction quickly took hold. After that, all Michael Israel wanted was help.

"In 2010, he said 'pop, I have a problem, I'm addicted to the pain pills. I can't control myself, ' " his father, Avi Israel, of Buffalo, said. "He did not want to be addicted."

Michael went back to the doctor, who said he'd lessen the dosage and "ween" him off the prescription painkiller, a member of a vast family of opioid drugs derived from the opium poppy. Opium poppies are part of a plant that has been used for its analgesic qualities since before recorded history. They are round, bluish pods at the end of a long stalk — the main ingredient in heroin.

After lots of processing, the pills themselves look like little more than a multivitamin, and more of them are prescribed in the U.S. than ever before.

"The pills are synthetic heroin — heroin made in a lab," Israel said. "No one told us the ramifications of taking this pill."

The ramifications would prove deadly.

Michael couldn't ween himself from the drug, and his frustration mounted. In 2011, Israel found his son in the garage of their Norwalk Avenue home, with the door closed and the car running. He survived the suicide attempt, an act brought on by a cocktail of emotions surrounding his inability to resist the pills he never wanted to need. The Israels, then desperate, tried to check him into an area hospital. He was sent home, and the family called an addiction specialist.

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