COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Gene Rowe is 66 years old and says he has spent more than half of his life with chronic neck and back pain. He says the state’s tough new rules for physicians prescribing opiate pain medications have pushed him into the grasp of heroin.
Rowe says his problem started with a violent car crash in 1980. “I hit the windshield and my head flies around the headrest,” Rowe says he now has seven herniated discs. A variety of treatments and opiate pain medications allowed him to continue working as a house painter for more than 20 years.
But, he says, several years ago he was robbed of his pain pills and was unable to get a new prescription. He turned to heroin to relieve his pain.
During his next scheduled visit to the pain clinic, he was turned away because his urine tested positive for heroin.
Gene lives in a small house on the north side of Columbus. He says he uses only enough heroin to make his pain tolerable. He injects it, not in a vein, but just under his skin to get longer lasting, more controlled pain relief. “Once in a while I’ll take a little bit extra heroin to give me enough strength to run the vacuum cleaner or do stuff like that,” he says.
He describes his current situation as a catch 22 – desperate to get off heroin but unable to find a doctor willing to treat his pain unless he can pass a drug test. “The only reason I do that heroin is because I don’t have a doctor to take care of me.”
Rowe shows us a nearly empty refrigerator and says he doesn’t eat much. He says his pain keeps him up at night. “It’s hell to live like I do,” Rowe says. Without my pain medicine, I’m sleeping maybe two hours a night if I sleep at all.”
“I’ve been smoking for 53 years and I’ve been praying that cancer will kill me. Not that I want to die – I just don’t want to be in pain, man,” he added.