As the Anchorage Wellness Court recently recognized Catherine Adcock for the strides she's made in addiction recovery, Deb Hageter watched from the back of the room. She stood to support her new friend: a woman whose arrest she triggered three years ago.
In 2012, Hageter, a pharmacist in Palmer, made the phone call that led to dozens of prescription fraud and drug possession charges against Adcock. It also led to an unlikely friendship between the two women, a bond both say will last.
Adcock says Hageter's call saved her life.
Hageter couldn't have imagined sharing this moment in 2012, when she was behind the counter at the Three Bears pharmacy on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway. It was then she first encountered Adcock, picking up a called-in prescription from an Anchorage doctor for a large quantity of Vicodin. She remembers the woman's color was "death gray."
Technicians pointed out Adcock had been picking up that amount every 10 days. Hageter, who only worked part-time, had filled it herself three times.
Hageter couldn't ignore the red flags. Researching the prescription history only added to the suspicion. The prescribing doctor had once misspelled her own name on the script, if records were to be believed.
Fearing for her customer's well-being, Hageter sought answers. To do less would be ignoring a dangerous situation that might otherwise end in tragedy, she felt.
"Nobody's going to die on my watch," she remembered telling colleagues and herself.
At the time, Adcock worked hard to stay high, deep in a hole she had been digging for decades. She'd been an alcohol and drug user since she was a teenager, but one dose of Oxycontin from a friend at 20 began a chase for pills that lasted the next 15 years. Along the way, she learned how to manipulate doctors and hide her addiction from employers in Alaska and Washington. Adcock, now 38, said she survived a suicide attempt at 25.
"It still makes me cry, because I wasted so many years," she said.
Adcock hadn't worked long as a medical assistant before she exploited her ability to call in prescriptions. All she needed was to forge a signature and return a faxed request from a pharmacy close to her Wasilla home.
At first, it seemed too easy, at least by the protocol in place at the time.
"It was just 'Let me try this. Let me see if it works,'" Adcock said. "And it worked."
It worked dozens of times in the next seven months. Adcock's days would begin with six Vicodin and two Xanax, she said. More would follow in an hour. How her day progressed depended entirely on how many pills she could feel at the bottom of her pocket. At one point, she took more than 60 pills a day.
Running low prompted anxiety, and refilling the prescription involved hovering around the phones and fax machines, all while socializing to keep up the appearance that everything was fine. She has no idea how she managed to avoid the suspicion of her colleagues.
"I prayed to get caught. I prayed and prayed, because I couldn't stop," she said.
In July 2012, Adcock heard a coworker mention that she had forwarded a voicemail from the pharmacist to the doctor at the clinic. She said her heart dropped to the floor. Two days later, colleagues watched as police led her out of the building in handcuffs.
Adcock faced 48 charges, 47 of them felonies, related to possession of controlled substances, fraud and forgery.
Hageter moved on and hoped for the best. A friendly and positive woman who is quick to praise her coworkers and credit divine intervention, she never second-guessed that sounding the alarm was the right thing to do.
"Generally, in that case, I just pray and ask God to take care of her and watch over her", said Hageter, 56. "And I'm just grateful she didn't die, that I wasn't the one that gave her her last dose of medicine that would kill her."
Adcock felt the same way after 14 grueling months as a participant in the Anchorage Wellness Court, one of several therapeutic programs operated by the Alaska Court System. The program offers some people facing alcohol and drug-related crimes an opportunity for a reduced sentence or dismissed charges. Participation means strict adherence to an exhaustive regimen of treatment, employment, sobriety testing and court appearances.
More than 50 people were honored at the Boney Courthouse on April 30 for graduating from the Anchorage Wellness Court.
Adcock, who now lives in Anchorage, said she didn't realize -- at least not at first -- that successful completion would mean she would avoid felony convictions. She just wanted to learn the skills for clean living, she said.
"I had never been sober. I didn't know how," she said.
Now, she's nearly three years clean. All 47 felony charges were dismissed. She pleaded guilty to a forgery misdemeanor.
For years, Hageter had no idea how it had played out for Adcock. She has seen her share of dubious prescriptions and patients trying to game the system since her career began in 1987. It can be tough to remain diligent, especially when pressed for time, she said.
Her reward came one day last August.
That day, Hageter said, a woman approached the counter in a nearly empty store.
"Do you remember me?" she asked.
"I looked at her face and was like, 'Tell me your name.'" Hearing her speak it brought the whole situation from two years earlier back into focus.
"I said, 'Are you here to kill me?' She started crying and said, 'I'm here to thank you for saving my life.'"
Hageter hurried around the counter. "We hugged and cried and hugged and cried and hugged and cried for a long time."
"It was just grace and mercy and forgiveness at its finest," Adcock tearfully recalled. "She's just beautiful."
For Adcock, it was a moment that will endure, one that allowed her to let go of some of the shame and guilt that she carries.
"For her to be there and forgive me, it gave me purpose. It increased my self-worth. It gave me direction. It made me feel that when I'm saying sorry, it's the right thing to do," she said.
Adcock is bracing for the apologies she has yet to offer, including to the doctor whose name she forged. No one owes her forgiveness, she said, and some may turn her away, which will be hard. But she intends to try.
"I have a big mess to clean up," she said.
On Thursday, Adcock stood in front of a full gallery of therapeutic court graduates and thanked Hageter. Afterward, Hageter pulled herself away from Adcock for fear of hogging all the love.
The two are in frequent contact now, and both say that's unlikely to change.
"Every time she's in (the Valley) she comes to visit me for hugs," Hageter said.
Adcock feels comfort knowing she only needs to reach in her pocket to connect with a person who cares for her well-being. The two text each other regularly, often just to say hello.
Hageter carries something else in her pocket: a tiny coin commemorating two years of Adcock's sobriety. It was a gift given on the day they reconnected last year. It's a coin Adcock hopes she'll never receive again. Hageter keeps it with her always.
"It reminds me to just be kind every day," Hageter said.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing