Without question, opioid drugs represent one of the most important, celebrated conquests of medicine due to their tremendous effectiveness at relieving pain. First, we found and isolated natural opioids like morphine and codeine; and since the 1950s, several synthetic opioids have been introduced, including popular pain-killing drugs like hydrocodone (the active component of Vicodin®), oxycodone (Percocet®, OxyContin®), pethidine (Demerol®), fentanyl (Durogesic®), and others.
On the flip side, the veritable cornucopia of opiates has led to an exponential rise in the abuse of prescription painkillers along with a corresponding torrent of overdose deaths. In fact, the current trend of opiate abuse, dependence, and addiction is nothing short of an epidemic in the United States and elsewhere. Equally lamentable is the fact that, once dependent or addicted, getting off of opiates is notoriously difficult. As a result, many opiate addicts end up on extended opioid maintenance rather than getting clean, essentially trading one drug addiction for another. This was my experience for almost six years; more on that later.
CRUSH ON OPIATES BEGINS WITH DENTAL WORK
As is surely the case with countless others, my own opiate odyssey began as a teen after my wisdom teeth were removed. At least, that’s the first time I can presently recall taking more pain medication than prescribed and thoroughly enjoying the experience. (Actually, that characterization barely begins to describe my early affection for opiates, which the addict in me felt sure represented the elixir for all my ills, from fear & inhibition to depression & sloth.) I can still remember the dark red Mepergan Fortis capsules I was prescribed by the dentist. Little did I know, my poppy pilgrimage would carry on for decades and end in misery with an extended, miserable buprenorphine weaning.
FROM CURIOUS TO KLEPTO: EXPLORING MEDICINE CABINETS
I soon began a very specific, all-too-common type of theiving: I became a surreptitious, stealthy, often bold raider of any medicine cabinet I could gain access to as guest in the homes of family and friends. I began to look forward to visiting certain homes whose medicine cabinets I had successfully raided in the past, including those of aunts & uncles, both sets of grandparents, and my one-time fiancee. When my dear grandfather passed away, I recall having to be particularly cautious and sly to pocket the stash of painkillers he no longer needed. To my dismay (though I did not worry about it too much at the time), that opiate theft was blamed by some on an aunt of mine who was a nurse. This regrettable action eventually evolved into a gnawing guilt in spite my decreasingly vocal conscience.
OPIATES WITHOUT A PRESCRIPTION
What began as recreational use of opiates quickly became an integral part of my life. I felt self-medicating was justified in order to (1) assuage the symptoms of major depressive disorder, (2) drive away my social inhibitions, (3) reduce my medical expenses by skipping the doctor visits, and (4) most importantly, bring about that euphoric, seemingly insupressible good mood. This was particularly true during my online pharmacy phase, during which I discovered many pharmacies across the globe which were more than happy to have another paying customer for prescription drugs of virtually any variety.
Some years before, I had become a fan of grey-market, controversial books from publishers like Paladin Press and Loompanics: books on subjects like growing mushrooms, creating new identities, moving abroad, concealing drugs, and what was now one of my favorite subjects and activities: using the global network of dropshipping online pharmacies. I eventually accumulated quite a collection of such books and catalogs. I knew my name and address must have been making it onto various law enforcement watchlists; however, I was certain they’d spend their time on more serious activity. All I am really doing, my flawed reasoning told me at the time, is saving money through DIY diagnosing, prescribing, and medicating. It’s all good!
I was quickly reminded that mixing opiate-based prescription drugs with some of my other favorite mood-adjusters was far more enjoyable than limiting myself to the played-out combination of opiates and alcohol. With a mixture of opioids, amphetamines (usually methylphenidate), benzos (alprazolam, diazepam, clonazepam), and muscle relaxers (chiefly Soma®) I could achieve a state of bliss in which I felt virtually unstoppable. What had been introversion changed to a more enjoyable extroversion; where I had been fearful of calling web development prospects to close sales, I became confident and skillful; what had been depressive lethargy and sloth were transformed into vibrant enthusiasm for all sorts of work and research on web development, search engine optimization, and other subjects that interested me.
But opiates are a short-lived fix. The ongoing use of opiates to achieve the desired attitude adjustment is ultimately an unsustainable solution; I proved this to myself repeatedly and with great pain. Over time, chasing the ephemeral effects of opiates caused more problems than I had before I started taking them.
I THOUGHT I COULD MANAGE MY ADDICTION
As mentioned elsewhere, I had already been exposed to Alcoholics Anonymous, attended countless AA meetings, and performed much Twelve-Step work. However, I still harbored many reservations to the effect, “Although I have much in common with realaddicts and alcoholics, I am not one of them… not completely, at least. The Twelve-Step thing simply does not work for me; I can stop drinking before getting drunk, and I can taper off prescription drugs when I truly want to.”
For example, I rarely drank enough to cause such unpleasantness as the dreaded, miserable hangover. I despised hangovers. I could and would usually stop drinking when I reached a certain level; I wasn’t one of those who kept drinking until oblivion. Similarly, I came to believe I could manage my prescription drug use by popping pills in my favorite combinations and then weaning myself off for a couple of weeks now and then.
My benzo addiction & opiate addiction management procedures became a regular part of life as the online pharmacy era progessed. I would:
- Order a continual stream of prescription drugs, staggered in time and variety, from my list of trusted online pharmacies
- Engage in mood management first thing in the morning & as needed throughout the day; create what I then thought were ideal conditions for 36-hour shifts of web work
- Collect money from clients or by obtaining a fresh credit card in order to keep the flow of pills arriving in my Marietta, GA mailbox
- Wean myself off the benzos and painkillers for a couple of weeks when my drug supply got low for whatever reason (e.g., purposely scaling back, running low on funds, gain too much drug tolerance,, etc.), as I convalesced in my bedroom sipping vodka and watching Sanford & Son, science documentaries, & movies
- Begin the process all over again, fending off concerns of my girlfriend, family, friends, AA members, web clients, and other concerned parties in the meantime
Toward the end of this phase, I weighed around 125 pounds and was told I did not look as fit, trim, and healthy as I did in my mind’s eye. Friends (some of them in recovery) insisted I stop self-medicating; so, with others present, I flushed large quantities of pills down the toilet (again), keeping only enough for me to wean myself off of the opiates and benzos for what I thought was one last time (again).
The depression soon returned in full force, what with my largely untreated addiction and alcoholism, depressive tendencies, low self-esteem, and guilt-ridden conscience. I worked less and less, eventually ignoring most of my commitments; I acceded to my depression, allowing it take over my psyche yet again. I spent increasing amounts of time in bed isolating, not answering the phone, staring at the idiot box, and bearing the relentless insomnia. I was soon unable to continue living in the Atlanta-area apartment I shared with another addict; I admitted defeat and moved into my parents’ home in Nashville, where I went through the motions of yet another attempt at recovery.
After a few months of bouncing in and out of the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and drinking/ using here and there, a longtime friend recommended I start taking Suboxone. I had procured a few Suboxone tablets and really enjoyed the minimalist buzz, the general feeling of well-being I got from the buprenorphine, as long as I allowed a few days between doses. I saw a highly recommended addictionologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and entered their ridiculously expensive Suboxone program which required regular visits, drug testing, and weekly group sessions. These were the last days of my Blue Cross/Blue Shield medical insurance; out of necessity, I soon began seeing another, more reasonably priced psychiatrist for my Suboxone. Soon, Adderall was added to the regimen… this time, via a legitimate prescription. This went on for almost six years. I viewed Suboxone as my savior — a real miracle drug — for the better part of those years. (My long, drawn-out experience with buprenorphine will be detailed in an upcoming post.)
SOMETHING STRONGER TO DULL THE PAIN?
During the last phase of my active alcoholism and drug addiction (from 2009 to early 2013), I began to yearn for more substantial opioid escapes from reality — and frequently, from life itself. Had I not been penniless and socially isolated, I would probably would’ve given heroin a shot. I wanted to try snorting or smoking heroin at first, and if it did for me what I believed it would, I have no doubt I’d have gone the intravenous route. But I did not know anyone from whom I could procure what I suspected would prove to be my panacea: the final cure-all for the unbearable “issues” by which I felt hopelessly trapped.
As it happened, I had become such a hermit — a slothful misanthrope who fancied himself an ascetic — that I never did undertake any such criminal activity as breaking into cars and homes for money or drugs. Even if I had, I may not have gone looking for heroin; perhaps I’d have contented myself with whatever benzos and painkillers I could steal along with more & better vodka from Bud’s Liquors in Green Hills. But none of that mattered; I was powerless over drugs and alcohol and ended up in drug rehab yet again.
Today, I’m seven months clean & sober and working at Discovery Place: the spiritual retreat for men suffering from addiction/ alcoholism. I can say without any hesitation or reservation that this life is better.