a prescription for addiction

A little piece of our story made it to the cover of the New York Times this week.

Well, actually, a piece that was left out. (It happens when you are too wordy.)

That little piece is a drug called Suboxone.

Suboxone/buprenorphine is, as the Times article says, “a substitute opioid used to treat opioid addiction.”

Suboxone played an important role in Dave’s recovery. In fact, it’s the last drug he used. Six years ago, he was weaning himself off it. And it was horrible.

Here is the published paragraph for her.meneutics with the portion in bold added back in:

For the first time, in a safe place to bare my soul, I began to release the burden of Dave’s recovery. He wasn’t “fixed” yet. [After a second time in a hospital for detox, Dave was prescribed a new “addiction recovery” drug called Suboxone under the care of a psychiatrist. With stress-filled, long hours of work and unable to take the time off needed for the required meetings, he found ways  to buy the Ultram pills online instead.] His choices resulted in losing ministry, income, home, and reputation all at once. The best thing that happened to Dave and me, as devastating as it was, was total exposure—our “rock bottom”—which defused the secrets of their power. — The Secret Lives of Christian Pill Addicts

Suboxone gave Dave the sense of well-being in just two pills that he’d gotten from 30 Ultram. But Suboxone treatment is complex. Really, it’s a trade. A legal substitute for heroin, a similar idea to Methadone, and an “acceptable” fix for prescription drug addicts — as long as you are under the care of a decent psychiatrist. Though it has helped a lot of people, it isn’t necessarily the answer to every problem of addiction. The inpatient detox program Dave went to in April of 2007 didn’t give him a choice. Suboxone turned out to be their prescribed answer for addiction.

With Suboxone, Dave had substituted one powerful drug for another.

The treatment, to be successful, required more of Dave than he was ready to give — especially for someone who is trying to keep the recovery process private.

The doctor he was supposed to meet regularly with was an hour’s drive away. Meetings for Suboxone patients were also an hour away, but in another direction. He reasoned that he could not keep up his 90-hour-week (in the summer) camp director job and take the time out necessary for the Suboxone program. But because he did not meet his obligations, he lost access to the Suboxone. However, it was easy to access Tramadol online, which meant immediate relief was right at his finger tips.

In theory, Suboxone is another “wonder drug,” intended to help people with chemical addiction work toward freedom from that addiction. Addiction isn’t just physical — it’s multi-faceted. Which is why, for Suboxone to be effective, the patient must find ethical, trained professionals AND has to be committed to the full course of treatment — meetings, counseling, and all.

On another note, Dave was put back on Suboxone in November of 2007 to ease withdrawal from Tramadol (to keep him out of the hospital, especially since we no longer had insurance) after his relapse. Then he had to taper off the Suboxone, which took him down to tiny pieces of the pill — milligrams, just like many Suboxone patients interviewed by the Times. The detox was agonizing. Worse than the Tramadol withdrawal. Dave didn’t begin to feel normal until several months after his last microscopic piece of pill. 

We demand so much of ourselves and of others when it comes to being well. A few sick days. A few delivered meals. A few prayers. Bodies and souls need time to recover from trauma. And getting out of addiction IS trauma.

There is no easy solution to drug addiction. Beware of programs that claim to be easy. Understand what we did not, that recovery is a consuming process, not a quick fix.

* * * * *

Opioids are a normal part of our American lives now.

Chances are, you or your children have taken opioids for big things like surgery recovery and even for lesser procedures or illness like oral surgery, coughs, and even nausea. And some drugs aren’t classified as opioid, but were designed to act just like an opioid on the brain — like Tramadol/Ultram.

Opioids act on specific receptors in the brain and the body, which also interact with naturally produced substances known as endorphins or enkephalins – important in regulating pain. While prescription pain relievers can be highly beneficial if used as prescribed, opioids as a general class of drugs have a high potential for abuse.  — National Institute on Drug Abuse 

Some commonly prescribed opioids are:

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet)
  • Diphenoxylate (Lomotil)
  • Morphine (Kadian, Avinza, MS Contin)
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic)
  • Propoxyphene (Darvon)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)

You can read more about Opioid addiction here.

* * * * *

A few thoughts for you:

  • Ask doctors for other relief options before giving yourself or your child an opioid. There ARE alternatives, especially for coughs and dental procedures.
  • Dispose of all pain medications wisely. Do not keep them around for the next time you have pain. Or, LOCK your medicine cabinet.
  • Don’t just take a doctor’s word for the need for and effectiveness of a medication. Do your own research. Get a second opinion. Both Dave and I have recovered from minor surgery (laproscopic gallbladder removal) and dental surgery (tooth extraction, root canal, etc.) on Ibuprofen and Tylenol. It takes longer, but we have to do it. Opioids are not allowed in our house.
  • I encourage you to read, or at least skim, the Times article and the follow-up article. I am fully convinced that greed in “Big Pharma” perpetuates prescription drug abuse epidemic in this country. Is there really a need for Suboxone strips? Think about it.
  • Finally, even in a tiny, beautiful, suburban community like Poulsbo, Washington, heroin has become a serious problem. Want to know why? Because it’s cheaper than prescription drugs.

* * * * *

NYT Subox

Recovery is individual. What seems to work for one person may not work for another. This post is intended to be informative, not a judgement against people who are using Suboxone, pain medication, or doctors who prescribe them.

Photo Credit: Wolcott, Marion Post, 1910-1990, photographer, May 1940 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [reproduction number, LC-USF34-053710-D (b&w film neg.)]

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