Hi Sean, thank you so much for offering to share your story with us. Your opioid addiction began in high school, when you were involved in a sports injury, and ended with you checking into rehab for heroin-addiction. Can you describe what happened that resulted in your doctor prescribing you opioids in the first place?
ANSWER: When I was seventeen, I was injured while playing football. After x-raying me, my doctor diagnosed me with a herniated disc and prescribed me Percocet. Not too long after the dosage was increased to 10 mg., I built up a tolerance to that, and had to take too many pills just for it to be effective any more. Then I was switched to Oxycontin. The injury was something I was eventually able to resolve through therapy, but it was the way the drug made me feel that kept me hooked on it. I was at a point where I was questioning my tolerance, seeing how far I could push the envelope.
At what point did you realize you had a problem tapering off the medication?
ANSWER: Honestly, I would say it took a couple of months of refills upon refills before I finally realized it. My main problem was that the injury left me somewhat immobile, which killed me because I was such an active kid up until that point, and I had a tough time coping with that part of it. Eventually, I became depressed, and worse, when I went too long without taking the pills, I became even more moody and irritable. I was taking them less because of the injury and more because it had become like a coping mechanism for what was going on at the time.
Did you ever feel that the frequency of the prescriptions were becoming unreasonable? Was there any limit to the number of prescriptions you could obtain?
ANSWER: I was young, and it was never really explained to me just how addictive these pills were. The obvious problem with being hooked on painkillers that young is that you just have to trust the adults in your life, especially the doctor whose job it is to treat you. I was allowed multiple refills with each prescription. In fact, I actually recall making some comment to the NP that my pain wasn’t exactly “unbearable” anymore, but they would still pile on the refills just in case I changed my mind.
Assuming the prescriptions were covered by health insurance, was affordability a factor before they stopped offering them to you? How did that change when they took you off the medication?
ANSWER: Yes, it was covered while I was recuperating from the injury, but when they finally took me off the pills, I had to find another way to get them, and they were actually pretty expensive. I was spending a couple hundred dollars a day on them, and come to find out, heroin (at $10.00 per dose) was a fraction of the price of the pills. I had already been struggling with the costs and stealing money from my parents, so the cheap stuff was a no-brainer for me. So, I hadn’t even graduated high school, and I had become a heroin addict.
Had you ever had an issue with drugs before the injury you sustained at seventeen?
ANSWER: No. Alcoholism runs in my family, but I had never experienced that myself.
How would you describe your first experience with heroin? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your attempts (i.e. withdrawal, cravings) and how has your addiction affected your relationships with your family?
ANSWER: Simply put, your first time doing heroin is probably the best experience you’ll ever have, which is exactly the problem with it. It hits you a lot faster than taking a pill, and it’s a lot more addictive. Over time, it becomes less about the high and more about trying to keep yourself alive, because the withdrawal is so bad, you feel like you want to die. In the meantime, heroin will turn you into someone you don’t know. It takes everything from you, but you don’t care. All you’ll care about is where that next high is going to come from, and how you’re going to get it. It doesn’t matter who you have to screw over.
In what ways have you experienced stigma against addicts?
ANSWER: I have been extremely lucky in that my family has always been supportive of me, in spite of what I’ve put them through, but it destroyed a lot of friendships. Most people don’t care how you came to be in that position. No one was really interested in the fact that, once I started heroin, it seemed nearly impossible to quit, because I was just another lowlife. When you’re a junkie, you’re a junkie. End of story.
Healthwise, how are you doing today compared to then? How are your relationships with your family-members? What have you learned from this ordeal?
ANSWER: This whole experience has been hell, for me and for my family. I’ve suffered overdoses, I’ve been in and out of rehab facilities, I’ve lied and stolen money. It altered my life in ways that I’ll never be able to fix. I was a totally different person beforehand, and this changed the way people look at me. Still, I consider myself luckier than a lot of people I’ve met who have gone through this. Today, I’m two years sober, and I’ve managed to repair my relationship with my family. I worked hard to gain back everyone’s trust, but it’s always a struggle, every day.
Mother and wife from Rhode Island. Writer of contemporary fiction.