A Times Investigation

His next pill: An OxyContin user’s journey from pain relief to obsession and addiction

Dan Schoepf still struggles to understand how he became addicted to OxyContin. A successful Orange County businessman, Sunday school teacher and father, he was all about responsibility.

“This was the most irrational thing that ever happened to me,” Schoepf said. “How I could find myself in this position ­­ it was unbelievable to me.”

Schoepf, the owner of a commercial sign shop in Cypress, was prescribed OxyContin in 2001 after he injured his back lifting a generator. When he complained that the pills wore off early, his doctor gave him higher and higher doses. No matter the amount, it never lasted 12 hours.

(Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
“My family never knew who they were going to get. I was either high or low.”

— Dan Schoepf

Schoepf started taking OxyContin in 2001 after he injured his back lifting a generator.

“All you can think about is getting more medicine,” said Schoepf, now 54. He gritted his way through bouts of withdrawal that felt like a stomach flu -- nausea, aches, cramps, chills. Eventually he began taking extra pills.

“You just lose all sense of proportion,” he said. “Before long, you are taking it for the addiction rather than the pain relief.”

He said his life, once full of family, work and church, was narrowed to a single obsession: His next pill.

“I always had a loaded pistol, just in case it got to be too bad and I couldn’t take it anymore,” he recalled.

He checked himself into rehab twice and said he has been sober for three years.

After he got clean, he was in a car accident driving home from an Angels game. The hospital offered him OxyContin. Though in excruciating pain, he recalled, “I told them, no. I wouldn’t take it.”

“With the knowledge I have today, you couldn’t force that down my throat,” he said.

Design and development by Lily Mihalik and Evan Wagstaff.