One Injury Leads To Years of Addiction: The Birth Of Skeleton Pill Man
Fifteen years ago, Frank Huntley was living a wonderful American life. His business, Frank’s Painting and Wallpapering, was growing. He had a wife and two kids and spent time working for a program that helped at-risk kids. He loved throwing Halloween parties for the neighborhood children and made life-like models of horror movie characters like Michael Myers and Frankenstein’s monster. There was no way he could have known that his hobby of making those life-size scary models would eventually become his mission with the Skeleton Pill Man.
In an interview with Worcester Magazine, Huntley described a moment that would change his life, “I was driving down Salisbury Street and my arm jumped out of its socket.” He doesn’t know what he hit, but his arm came out of its socket and he needed two major surgeries to repair it in 1998. For someone who uses their upper body for work, this had a devastating effect on Huntley’s life and put him in significant pain. His doctor prescribed him Percocet.
After some time on Percocet, his doctor recommended switching to a new drug called Oxycontin. What started as a couple 20 milligram pills in the morning led to a tolerance and the need for more drugs to alleviate his chronic pain. By the time night came, Huntley starting suffering withdrawal symptoms, so his doctor prescribed him Methadone for the evenings. In 2004, he stopped working and his business was dissolved. It changed his personality, “This medicine made me tired, made me moody, made me sick,” Huntley said. He credits his addiction for his divorce. When asked about opiates he said, “They suck everything away. I had everything. My company was going big. I had everything with my ex-wife. It was amazing. And it just went away. I was weak, I was in pain.”
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It wasn’t until 2012 that Huntley’s old physician left his practice, and no other doctor would prescribe him the same amount of drugs that his body was used to. His new doctor helped him back down on medication and come off the pills and use non-medication strategies to handle his pain. The Worcester Magazine article states that Huntley said OxyContin was first intended for cancer and chronic pain patients, but that doctors were prescribing it for almost everything. “They ended up writing it for everything. They’d write it for knee pain, for everything,” Huntley said.
Huntley attended a Narcotics Anonymous meeting so he could have the opportunity to tell his story. He also began another therapeutic project. Over the years, he kept his empty pill bottles. Using a fake skeleton, he adorned the bones with nearly 300 bottles, making up its body. The labels read Oxycontin, Methadone, and Percocet; the drugs that nearly ruined his life. He uses the Skeleton Pill Man to tell others his story. “This is me, I am pill man,” said Huntley.
Skeleton Pill Man Making Waves
Today, 52-year-old Huntley is using his Skeleton Pill Man to raise awareness about the opioid epidemic and how addiction takes everything away from the user. He is attempting to introduce Skeleton Pill Man to every presidential candidate before the New Hampshire primaries in February. Huntley wants to know what presidential candidates plan on doing about the opioid crisis and also show them what addiction looks like. He is having mixed success so far: Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren’s staffers would not let Skeleton Pill Man inside a campaign event, but he was able to present Skeleton Pill Man to presidential candidate Andrew Yang.
In an interview with Fox News, Huntley said, “We need the right people sitting in that office to make sure people are safe, alive, and educated.” Huntley started a nonprofit to raise money so he can travel with Skeleton Pill Man and talk to people about the reality of the addiction crisis. His Facebook page, PillManHelps, shows Huntley taking Skeleton Pill Man to different communities and encouraging others to speak out about their addiction and recovery.
With over 130 people dying every day from opioid-related overdoses, education for doctors and patients is needed to determine when a powerful prescription is really necessary. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain which provides recommendations on safely prescribing opioids. In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication, and 20% of patients who complained about non-cancer pain symptoms received an opioid prescription. Those who become addicted to their prescription often abuse the drug or turn to a more effective and affordable option in illicit drugs like Heroin or Fentanyl.
Hayley Hudson is the Director of Content at Addiction Center. She earned a B.A. in Communications from the University of Central Florida and has 6 years of professional writing experience. A passion for writing led her to a career in journalism, and she worked as a news reporter for 3 years, focusing on stories in the healthcare and wellness industry. Knowledge in healthcare led to an interest in drug and alcohol abuse, and she realized how many people are touched by addiction.
- More from Hayley Hudson
- Worcester Magazine. (2014). Pill Man: One man’s fight to overcome opiate addiction. Retrieved January 24, 2020 at https://www.worcestermag.com/2014/07/17/pill-man-one-mans-fight-overcome-opiate-addiction
- Stamford Advocate. (2019). OxyContin protester takes on Purdue in Stamford. Retrieved January 24, 2020 at https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/local/article/Painkiller-protester-takes-on-Purdue-in-Stamford-13822076.php
- Fox News. (2019). Skeleton ‘pill man’ confronts presidential candidates about opioid epidemic. Retrieved January 24, 2020 at https://www.foxnews.com/politics/skeleton-pill-man-presidential-candidates-opioid-epidemic
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. Retrieved January 24, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/prescribing/guideline.html
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain — United States, 2016. Retrieved January 24, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/rr/rr6501e1.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fmmwr%2Fvolumes%2F65%2Frr%2Frr6501e1er.htm
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic? Retrieved January 24, 2020 at https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/index.html