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A hip surgery as a teenager led Sanders to his first experience with prescription medication.

"They prescribed me pain medication, that's when I got that first feeling that I searched for, for the rest of my life," Sanders said. "I searched for that euphoric feeling."

Sanders is one of three local residents who recently spoke to the Dothan Eagle about the impact of prescription medication abuse on their lives.

Dothan Police Sgt. Jason Adkins called prescription medication the number one abused drug investigated by the department's narcotics unit, with methamphetamine coming in right behind it.

Initially Sanders took his prescription pain medication as directed, and eventually went on with life, playing basketball and golf. He played golf for a state junior college, but change hit hard after his life of competitive sports stopped.

"I'd been in sports so long, then all of a sudden I didn't have any sports to play ," Sanders said . " I started feeling like something was missing. I could still play sports, but it wasn't as competitive as it was before. Then all of a sudden there's nothing to do and it's all over . I had this idea I was going to be playing golf or basketball for the rest of my life. Then I realized that's not going to happen. I think it was a lot of depression and instead of motivating myself to get a degree I took the easy way out and took to substances."

Obtaining meds

Sanders started what he described as "doctor shopping" in an effort to escape through pain medication.

"What I'd do is go to a doctor and tell them I've had surgery and it's bothering me still or I'd go in there with a fake back injury," Sanders said.

Adkins, the supervisor of the Dothan Police narcotics unit, said some of the most common types of prescription medication seized by police during their investigations include hydrocodone, Lortab, Lorcet, which are all pain medications similar to Percocet. He also said police come across Xanax, Ambien, alprazolam and Adderall.

Adkins called doctor shopping one of the most common ways people get prescription medication to abuse it.

"They're going to multiple doctor's appointments with various ailments. Then they'll go to a dentist," Adkins said. "Some of them may be legitimate ailments, but they can live with them."

After about a year of using, it got progressively worse for Sanders.

"Then I was taking them in the morning to motivate myself to go to work," Sanders recalled.

Over the next 10 years, Sanders floated from odd job to odd job until he managed to get a job working as a corrections officer for a sheriff's department in north Alabama in 2008.

Sanders recalled selling tobacco and "pot" in the jail where he worked to feed his addiction.

"I was probably spending $200 a day buying it off the streets. I financially wrecked myself," Sanders said. "I didn't want to face reality so I hid from it behind opioids and prescription medicine."

But Sanders' addiction eventually caught up with him and legal troubles forced him into treatment. Sanders faced prison time with the onset of two felony charges and a misdemeanor.

"The court ordered me to go to treatment. I'm in debt to the sheriff up there because they saved my life," Sanders said. "I had to get honest with myself because I was going nowhere quick. I'm grateful for getting in trouble now. I've been to the gates of hell, and now maybe I can help someone else. I was ashamed of my past, but today it can be an asset."

In exchange for completing treatment, Sanders said his criminal charges were dropped. After two years sober and clean from drug abuse Sanders, now 35 years old, works at Herring Houses treatment center in Dothan.

"I'd been trying for 10 or 12 years to quit and I wasn't doing a good job of it ," Sanders said. " When I got into treatment it became more of letting God do it and that's what I did. God did what I couldn't do for myself. He took the obsession to use away from me . Today it's about helping others. Only God can turn a mess into a message. If I can just help one person in my life then it's all worth it."