A BV man says prescription drug abuse landed him in jail

By Caitlin Doermer

Jason Wheeler admits he’s an addict.

He said he’s used cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana to have a good time with his friends and deal with his emotional highs and lows.

When he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on Xanax, an anti-anxiety medicine, he said he thought he had a solution to his problems.

But Xanax quickly turned into the most addictive drug Wheeler said he has ever used.

“With the Xanax, it just, I can’t put it into words,” he said. “It was just a different craving.”

Wheeler, 38, was born and raised in Buena Vista in west-central Virginia. After a short stint at West Virginia University, he said he returned home so his mother wouldn’t be alone while his father worked construction out of town. He said he’s lived at home since 1993.

“He was the youngest. We were all spoiled,” his sister, Rhonda Wheeler, said. “But later in life he had issues, and then he couldn’t leave.”

Last month, Wheeler was sentenced to a little more than two years in jail for distribution of methamphetamine. It’s the fifth time that he has gotten into trouble with the law.

During a sentencing hearing in November, Rockbridge County Circuit Judge Michael Irvine said Wheeler has been a “regular” at the Buena Vista courthouse. He has arrests on his record for possession of cocaine and marijuana and multiple citations for driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Christopher Russell, commonwealth’s attorney for Buena Vista, argued for a tough sentence this time around because of Wheeler’s upbringing. Wheeler’s sister said the family was always very close-knit and supportive.

“He had a lot of advantages that most don’t have,” Russell said.

When he was younger, Wheeler was prescribed Vicodin, a painkiller, after two surgeries on his back. He said he took the drug for six or seven years but never felt addicted. He weaned himself off the Vicodin, but without it, he said, he couldn’t sleep.

“I didn’t know what was happening, and it’s hard to go to someone when you, yourself, don’t know what’s going on,” he said during an interview at Rockbridge Regional Jail. “I just knew staying up for three or four days naturally just wasn’t right.”

In 2008, Wheeler was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He said he was prescribed a tranquilizer, a mood stabilizer and Xanax. Wheeler said the combination of drugs prevented him from eating, sleeping or interacting with his family.

In June of 2010, Wheeler’s father was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Because of the added pressure of his father’s illness, Wheeler said he began to abuse cocaine and methamphetamine.

“I had to stay awake,” he said. “I had to work and take care of my father so I had no time to be all zombied out.”

Two months later, Wheeler was arrested for driving under the influence of codeine and marijuana. He said he was on his way to work when police pulled him over for hitting a curb while entering a gas station parking lot.

“There’s a couple of days I drove to work, and I don’t even remember driving,” he said. “I could have killed somebody. I could have killed myself.” Wheeler said he threw away his Xanax when he got out of jail the next morning.

He didn’t seek help until his father died at the beginning of this year. Two months later, he checked himself into an inpatient program at Central Virginia Community Services Center in Lynchburg. He said his new doctor took him off the Xanax and put him on new medicine.

“Prescription drugs are bad,” he said. “If you abuse them, they will bring you down just as much as cocaine, meth, weed, any of the other drugs.”

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