The number of pills Joshua Lee takes in one calendar year totals to 9,828.
The 33 year old disabled veteran of the Missouri National Guard wanted to provide a visual representation of the amount of prescription medication he takes annually. “My medication schedule is a handful in the morning, six or eight at noon and another handful in the evening,” he said. He and his wife used Smarties candies for the image and posted it to Reddit, where it has received hundreds of responses, many of which were from veterans. It is estimated that nearly 70,000 veterans currently suffer from opioid addiction.
“On a daily basis, I’m munching opiates, narcotics, muscle relaxers, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, anti-psychotics… Oh, and let’s not forget, I need pills to control the side effects of the first pills,”
he wrote in the Reddit post.
“I’m 100% disabled, unable to work or function in most social settings due to an unholy trifecta of PTSD, fibromyalgia, and Arthritis …”
The inspiration for the post came from his experience with medical marijuana. A friend of his wife, who also suffers from fibromyalgia, moved to Colorado and found relief in cannabis. Lee and his wife did their own research, reading studies about medical marijuana. On their 15th anniversary, Lee and his wife went to Colorado to give cannabis a chance.
“Honestly, for the first time in a long time, I felt like my old self again,” said Lee. So much so, “where I could potentially be good to my family again.”
Lee served in Afghanistan with the 203rd Engineer Battalion of the Missouri National Guard from 2009 to 2010 as a wheel to wheel mechanic. When he returned home in 2011, he started noticing symptoms. Today, simple household chores cause acute pain and leaves him unable to function for days. It causes Lee to be “an absolute bear to be around,” impacting his family life.
The Veteran’s Administration estimates approximately 60 percent of veterans returning from Middle East conflicts have chronic pain, as well as 50 percent of older and retired veterans. This has lead to a significant spike in opioid addiction among veterans, which was documented in 2016 by Frontline, the PBS documentary series. From 2010-2015, there was a 55 percent increase in opioid addiction. While the VA has changed its prescribing habits, patients are still suffering.
The online feedback from his Reddit post ranges from supportive to critical, some suggesting that he’s trying to get free marijuana from the VA. “I am being given thousands of dollars worth of opiates free each month,” said Lee, insisting that money is not the issue.
Since his experience in Colorado, Lee has become a medical marijuana advocate. He is participating in a program called Project 22, which educates Missouri veterans about marijuana’s potential to treat conditions that affect them. The program will send him to Colorado to attend the 1st Annual Institute of Cannabis Research Conference. So far, Lee’s attempt to meet with legislators has been difficult, realizing that his viral image was more effective.
The Missouri legislature has multiple bills aimed at legalizing medical marijuana, with House Bill 437 leading the way. A hearing by the Health and Mental Health Policy Committee took place, but there are no other hearings currently scheduled. While this signals that medical marijuana in Missouri might be stalled, Lee is still determined.
“My military training did not train me to run, to crawl away,” he said. “It trained me to stand up.”