In January 2012, the Mirror UK, printed a story detailing the final weeks of Michael Jackson’s life in which he mutilated himself in order to get ongoing dosages of painkillers, such as Propanol, which was eventually found to have killed the pop singer1.

According to the news article, Jackson would go to great physical lengths to obtain his painkillers including banging his head on walls, or hitting his wrists and arms against furniture. All this, in short, to keep up what’s been reported as a $40,000+ monthly drug habit.

Of course there are other reports of self-mutilation for painkillers, just not with as much notoriety as Jackson’s ordeal. Either way, rehabilitation and recovery experts suggest this practice is more common than is reported. It also charts the depths that a severely addicted person is willing to go for their prescription meds.

Medical journals have pointed out that self-harm or self-mutilation is when someone intentionally harms themselves in order to cause pain. This can be done in a variety of ways, which include cutting, burning, bruising, and eventually bleeding.

And now with the rising influx of prescription painkiller use in the U.S., doctors and caregivers have witnessed an upswing in addicted individuals self-mutilating to obtain additional pain medicine.

But the phenomena of a cut for a shot has now involved federal authorities who are investigating instances of fraud with these individuals.

Take the case of Kari Richards of Latrobe, Pa., who after an unsuccessful and extremely painful shoulder operation in 2012, had the unique ability to dislocate her shoulder on demand. This action would in turn allow her to obtain painkillers.

The New York Times states federal prosecutors maintain that Richards defrauded more than 100 hospitals in 11 states for shoulder dislocations she was causing herself2. In fact, within a 16-month period, Richards sought painkillers up to 300 times.


With an estimated two million Americans practicing some sort of self-inflicted injury3, it’s been found that self-mutilation has been around for a very long time, more often than not under the umbrella of a general cry for help or approval.

Scientific American states self-harming can date back to at least the 19th century when European women punctured themselves with needles4. While the reasons for this self-mutilation can vary, the larger phenomenon as was later found by two American doctors, George Gould and Walter Pyle, was that this form of self-mutilation in women spanned across all classes; rich, poor, socially gifted, etc. Even in an era before the existence of prescription opioids, world renowned psychiatrist Karl Menninger (1893-1990) suggested that self-mutilation was a possible method used to heal oneself: “Local self-destruction is a form of partial suicide to avert total suicide.”

In some ways, self-mutilation mirrors drug addiction in that it knows no societal bounds. It can affect anyone, anywhere and at any time. As a University of Missouri professor noted for his work in self-mutilation attests, “Self-mutilation spares no social class. It spares no gender. It spares no ethnicity.”


More often than not, self-mutilation falls under the category of suicide. The reason this diagnosis is a misdiagnosis is first of all, self-mutilation in many cases is a cry for help, or in the instance of someone addicted to painkillers, a demand that a remedy be given to them that will help their pain.

Of course, while self-mutilation and suicide are complete opposites of each other, the reason one can be confused with the other is that both actions can inflict great amounts of pain.

According to Psychology Today, the general reason self-harmers differ from those who attempt suicide is the intent that comes with the actions taken by someone who does one or the other5. Those who are suicidal see no way out of their pain and suffering. They feel as if they’re a burden and that their situation is hopeless, while those who self-harm seek to live but do so through the sensation of pain. This assures self-harmers that they are alive, particularly during times of emotional disconnection.


The factor behind self-harming and prescription painkillers can be that the rush will always be there. The rush can occur due to the infliction of injury and last all the way to when a prescription painkiller is administered then taken.

Of course, others may not have quite the same experience. Much in the same way as addiction is a very personal experience, the exhilaration from self-mutilation and prescription painkillers can be much different depending on the person.

Just be sure of this: because they are opioid-based painkillers, the possibility of addiction is very real. In fact, if you are already mutilating yourself to get prescription painkillers, you may very well already have a substance abuse problem that will need to be addressed sooner or later.

If you or a loved one have an addiction to alcohol, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery within 30 days. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.


  1. Michael Jackson “self-harmed” to get painkillers, Mirror. Retrieved 2016.
  2. Feds: Woman Repeatedly Dislocated Shoulder to Get Pain Pills, The New York Times. Retrieved 2016.
  3. The History and Mentality of Self-Mutilation, NPR.ORG. Retrieved 2016.
  4. Self-Cutters May Be Seeking Pain Relief, Scientific American. Retrieved 2016.
  5. Understanding Suicide and Self-harm, Psychology Today. Retrieved 2016.

Self-Mutilation and Opioid Addiction