My Interview with Joshua Lyon, Author of “Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict”

Joshua Lyon, Author of Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict

Joshua Lyon, Author of "Pill Head"

Note: If you like this blog, you will LOVE “Pill Head”. Go buy it. —Ed.

The first thing you notice when speaking with Joshua Lyon, author of PILL HEAD: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict, is what a nice guy he is.

I had a chance to speak with Joshua on the phone the other day, and you can tell he has thought a lot about the issues surrounding opiate addiction—his intelligence and concern are unmistakable as he converses easily on the subject.

PILL HEAD adds up to much more than Joshua’s personal experiences. In addition to the recognizable memoir format, he also covers his subjects with a distinct oral history bent; combining aspects of interview, research, and investigative journalism into a truly unique (and long overdue) take on the subject of painkiller addiction.


I also sent Joshua some follow-up questions via e-mail:

SWALLOW: What was the major factor or factors in your decision to write the book?

Joshua Lyon: When I was in the midst of my addiction I looked everywhere for a memoir that dealt with this subject. I found a lot of books about Big Pharma but couldn’t find anything that had a first person account or something I could relate to as a regular user. I decided to try and fill that void. The other big factor was that writing has always been a huge part of helping me work through my problems. The experience was incredibly cathartic.

SWALLOW: Is there anything you would have liked to have discussed, that didn’t make it into the book?

Joshua Lyon: There have been so many recent developments that change the playing field, like the death of Michael Jackson and the proposed ban on Vicodin and Percocet, but I’ve been lucky enough to find outlets for me to express my opinions about them. There were also many more memoir aspects that we ended up cutting from the book in order to make room for other people’s stories. I think some of them might have put some of my actions into a stronger perspective, but ultimately I’m really happy with what we ended up with. There’s also one really embarrassing phrase rep in there that happens within two pages of each other, but that can get changed if there’s a second printing. Fingers crossed, I’m kind of neurotic about that stuff.

SWALLOW: We talked a little bit about the inevitable “family fallout” that follows the publishing of a memoir. How are your family and friends reacting to the book so far?

Joshua Lyon: The only fallout so far has been with my father. I told him that I was going to write about that night on the roof and even double checked what he had said with him. But he was really upset when he read that I thought what he said had sounded rehearsed. I think his fear is that he thinks it reads as though I’m implicating him in some sort of cover-up. I just wrote what I was feeling at the time. I still stand by my belief that what he said sounded rehearsed, but I don’t believe it actually was anymore. I didn’t come to that belief though until after the book had gone to print. It’s something I’m trying to work out with him. I was really terrified for my grandmother to read it but she has been nothing but supportive. I think it’s hard for my family to hear about everything because I kept it all very hidden. I don’t see them very often and no one even knew anything was wrong for years, until I went to rehab.

SWALLOW: Reading the interview portions of your book, we meet a lot of interesting characters. Have you been keeping up with any of them? Any interesting updates?

Joshua Lyon: Heather and her baby are doing great, and I just heard a rumor that she’s pregnant with her second. Everyone is just now reading their copies of the book so I’m waiting for their responses. I heard that Caleb is looking to get clean, I know that Jared still is, but I’m not sure where Elliott stands just yet.

SWALLOW: It seems to me that there were many red flags over the last decade or so (including high-profile celebrity painkiller addictions and deaths) that clearly pointed to what I have been referring to as the Painkiller Epidemic… yet as a society I feel we totally missed them. Do you have any personal theories on how this could have happened?

Joshua Lyon: My own personal theory is that so many people enjoy these medications recreationally that no one wants to make a fuss about it. I agree with you about the red flags and I thought for sure Heath Ledger’s death would be a turning point, but like with any celebrity the entire incident was micromanaged by a team of publicists. Jackson is different, since he was so huge, but you have to remember he was also an existing tabloid staple. I’m not even sure this current bout of press about painkillers is legitimate, I think news sources are looking for any way possible to talk about him.

SWALLOW: Lastly, a question I have asked others before: What advice would you offer readers who currently find themselves addicted to painkillers and wish to seek treatment?

Joshua Lyon: Start slow, just talk about it. Don’t rush into it and don’t feel like you have to make a decision today or even tomorrow. A lot of times people rush into trying to get clean, and when they relapse it can often make the accompanying depression even worse, since they feel like they’ve let themselves and others down. But since painkiller use can be such an isolating thing, it’s important to start letting those closest to you know that you are using and that you think you might have a problem. When people who love you are in on it they can help guide you in the right direction. The other important thing is to not try to stop using suddenly. Withdrawal is so painful and often very dangerous, and should really only happen under a doctor’s care or in a detox program.


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Photo ©2009 Joshua Lyon


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4 Responses to “My Interview with Joshua Lyon, Author of “Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict””

  1. Coming Soon: My Review of “Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict” by Joshua Lyon « S W A L L O W Says:

    […] My interview with Joshua Lyon has been posted! […]

  2. iloerose Says:

    I just found his interview on talk of the nation. It’s a brave thing to do: write a book about what many people see as an absolute weakness, an abomination in many people’s viewpoints. It’s not easy to quit once you start, mentally you want that “high” if that’s what you can call it and the fear of not having it is crushing, and then there is fear of the withdrawals. After awhile, people don’t use to get high, they use to feel “normal”. The truth is that “pill heads” could be your neighbor, your teacher, your minister, your grandmother. It’s difficult to get help, some can’t admit it due to the fear of losing not only respect, but a profession or career. Many brave people have gone c/t alone.

  3. shell Says:

    Its true there are so many closet addicts out there.It was so hard for me to ever find a book about opiate addicts! I needed the book “pillhead” in my life.To feel that I was not alone.That is what alot of us opiate addicts need so badly.I am waiting for the day someone writes a book on suboxone.I feel like someone goes to rehab,gets on suboxone then becomes addicted to it.Then how do we get off that? I am still waiting to hear really good information on subutex/suboxone from people who take it.

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