Jessica Harmon said she was making up to $4,000 a month selling prescription pills such as oxycodone and hydrocodone on the street. Her supplier? The Wagoner Medical Center in Burlington.
By the time Harmon started selling her prescriptions around 2004, she already was addicted to painkillers herself. That led her to using cocaine and methadone.
Her drug addiction eventually put Harmon in prison for 26 months after she was arrested in 2010 on charges of trafficking, robbery and possession of a controlled substance. And it was her time in prison that finally gave her the chance to get clean.
“Going to prison saved my life,” Harmon said. “If I didn’t go, I wouldn’t be here talking to you.”
Today, Harmon said, she’s finally putting her life back together after living for years as an addict. The 39-year-old Kokomo native works as a bartender and server at a local restaurant. She owns her own car and is getting ready to make the final payment on her house.
But her life today is a far cry from what it was when she first visited the Wagoner clinic in Burlington in 2003.
Harmon decided to go there after hearing from other people that doctors at the clinic would hand out narcotics to just about anyone who asked for them. And those people were right, she said.
“I just walked in and it was a breeze,” Harmon said. “I told him exactly what I wanted and walked out with exactly what I asked him for.”
When she made her first trip there, she wasn’t in pain and didn’t have a legitimate need for the pills. Harmon went for her now ex-husband, who at the time was addicted to painkillers. She said she agreed to go to the Wagoner clinic because she didn’t want him buying them illegally on the street.
And even though Harmon was more than six-months pregnant when she visited the clinic, that didn’t stop physicians from writing her a prescription for hydrocodone.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that was easy,’” Harmon said.
Over the next couple of years, physicians there voluntarily upped her prescription rates without Harmon ever asking, she said. They even prescribed her oxycodone and Xanax, which have a high chance to lead to overdoses when taken together.
Soon, Harmon said, she started taking the pills herself after watching how they affected her then-husband.
“It made me speedy and full of energy,” she said. “I was nonstop. … It was just so easy. It was just a monthly thing. You talked for a few seconds to a physician and left with your script.”
Harmon’s then-husband eventually started going to the Wagoner clinic to get his own scripts. She kept going every month as well to fill hers.
Then people started asking them if they could buy their pills. When she and her husband found out how much they were willing to pay, they started selling off their entire monthly prescriptions, Harmon said.
“By then, we discovered there was so much money to be made off it that the money part became an addiction,” she said. “It was 15 minutes of work, and I had $3,000. We were making so much money it was stupid. It was insane.”
That ended once someone called the Wagoner clinic to tell them Harmon was using cocaine. The next time she went in, physicians required her to take a drug screen. When they found cocaine in her system, a doctor there told her she could either go to a recovery center or find another doctor.
“I didn’t go back. I didn’t want help,” Harmon said. “I found a new doctor.”
But the drug dealing continued. Harmon said she and her then-husband started a prescription-fraud scheme to continue making money. Her husband ended up getting arrested for that.
And it was his arrest that led Harmon to go “completely berserk.”
“That was my breaking point,” she said. “I was like, ‘I can’t do this without him.’ I gave up on everything and decided … to do anything and everything. I didn’t care anymore.”
That attitude led to her arrest in 2010. And once she was behind prison walls, Harmon decided it was time to face her addiction. She enrolled in an intensive substance abuse treatment program called “Clean Lifestyle is Freedom Forever” and started down the road to recovery.
“I had to start feeling things again,” she said. “I had to start learning things about myself – what my triggers were and my coping mechanisms. I had to retrain my brain to think like a sober person.”
Harmon got out of prison in 2013 and joined a re-entry court program. Then, just 10 days later, her mother-in-law died of a drug overdose. Harmon said it was a tragic and staggering reminder of where her own addiction might have led.
And Harmon was reminded of that again last year when her own mother died of an overdose. She said her mom first got addicted to painkillers after seeing doctors at the Wagoner clinic.
Looking back, Harmon said it’s hard to overstate the impact the clinics had on opioid addiction and abuse in Kokomo and the surrounding area. And now that the clinics are closed, she hopes the community can begin to heal like she did during her time in prison.
“The addiction is always going to be there,” Harmon said. “It’s not going away. You just have to learn how to keep control of it and not let it control you.”