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From the voices of female offenders addicted to prescription drugs

24 July 2000


Ten semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten women currently on probation in a Northwest Oregon county, due to crimes committed in relation to their prescription drug dependency. Phenomenological qualitative analysis was utilized to identify themes that emerged. The women's reported experiences were studied repeatedly until similar themes across experiences were identified. Each section of the results attempts to present the identified themes, in conjunction with what the participants experienced, and how they experienced it, with interpretations and abstractions provided throughout. Summary descriptions of each of the participants is presented, followed by four general discussion areas. These areas include the participants' experiences with prescription drug use and
availability, the criminal justice system, the medical community, and treatment.
Following the general topic areas, further similarities that emerged are presented. In particular, analysis of the interviews indicated that all of the participants reported a history of either sexual or physical abuse in addition to chronic medical conditions. The women appeared to attempt to protect themselves and to maintain stability in their environments by employing avoidance responses that included secrecy, excessively accommodating others, and isolating from others. The use of avoidance responses interfered with the women's interpersonal relationships since they tended to avoid situations that would require reciprocal communication. Increased anxiety contributed to the women's eventual breakdown of control over their environments. Following this
breakdown, overwhelming emotions, such as feelings of intense shame and self-blaming emerged. The women's attempts to protect themselves were further compounded by their lack of awareness regarding their emotional processes and emotional needs. As a result of their poorly developed ability to regulate emotions and their tendency to describe their pain as purely physical while blaming external circumstances for their lack of treatment, they were not able to identifY the emotional process that ultimately contributed to their increased pain, and in tum led to their increased need for medication and eventual decision to knowingly break the law. The impact of complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is discussed in addition to suggestions for approaches to future treatment design, suggestions for probation officers and physicians, and suggestions for future research.


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