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[ Opinion ] [ Personal Narratives ]

The Stigma Behind Opioid Replacement Therapy

We constantly hear about the stigma the surrounds addiction, and while there’s no doubt that a deadly stigma exists that presents a false sense of moral failure to describe addiction, there is another stigma that exists among people who are in recovery. When it comes to opioid/opiate addiction, there is more than one option available for effective treatment. In fact, there are options that have statistically backed research to suggest that opioid replacement therapy is the best chance one has at overcoming an addiction to opiates like heroin or their dangerous opioid cousins like Norco, Oxycodone, Fentanyl etc…

WHAT IS OPIOID REPLACEMENT THERAPY?

Also referred to as drug replacement therapy, opioid replacement therapy is an evidence backed treatment, used to aid in the cessation of dangerous drug addictions like heroin and Oxycodone, while replacing them with a longer acting but less euphoric opioid, like methadone or Suboxone. It is highly recommended that this therapy is taken under medical supervision with the addition of evidence based therapy like CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy).

HOW STIGMA TO DRUG REPLACEMENT THERAPY ALMOST KILLED ME

Growing up I saw addiction all around me. I saw it while driving around the city, when my stepfather would point to victims of the disease, selling themselves, or living homeless, he would exclaim “that’s what happens when you do drugs!”

I also saw it up close and personal with my fathers ex-wife, who had been a black out alcoholic since the age of 14. I remember going to Alanon meetings with my father, who was trying to desperately fix his marriage of ten years. But when given the choice to quit drinking or leave, she left. For a long time I despised her for that, and I made it clear how much I hated her for “choosing” to continue drinking. How little did I know, I would get my own taste of this disease, which started when I was only 14.

I had met up with a friend who had just came back from the hospital after breaking his collarbone skateboarding, and I remember him showing me his prescription for these tiny little white 5mg Roxicodone (instant release Oxycodone) pills. I remembered having seen people get high off of these on some TV show, so without much thought, I ate a couple.

A few minutes later I used the reasoning skills only found in addicts, “these are tiny as hell, I probably need more than a couple to feel somewhat of a high.”

30 milligrams and 25 minutes later, I felt my stomach wrenching, and proceeded to vomit. But after vomiting, I felt this glow I’ve never felt before. I remember thinking, “why can’t I feel like this all the time?” and that’s when my addiction started.

I continued taking pills whenever I could get them since it was more difficult being so young in the post-OxyContin days. By the time I turned 18 and graduated high school, I had also “graduated” from 2 detox programs.

I was scared to quit because of the opiate withdrawal, and because I was desperate and terrified of loosing my love and my son, I considered some of the other options, like a methadone clinic or suboxone taper, but what the case manager said to me in detox stopped that in its tracks.

“Methadone is for heroin addicts who haven’t been able to get clean for like 10 years” he told me.

Not knowing anything better, I took the advice of my doctor, and I detoxed cold turkey. For the next 5 years I remained abstinent of drugs and went to meetings. But half a decade after my last use, I relapsed. I relapsed without even much thought. After 5 years, it was stillas if I was on autopilot when the opprotunity arose. I was working at a car dealership, shoveling the snow on the car lot, and I saw one of my fellow employees “nodding” as if he was definitely on something.

And here is how simple my relapse went:

Me: “Hey do you have anything?”

Other Guy: “no, why do I look high?”

Me: “Yes, I can tell… actually I do opiates too”, failing to mention that it had been 5 years.

Other Guy: “What kind of opiates? You don’t discriminate?”.

Me: “No..Not at all”, I knew what was coming.

Sure enough, he broke me out my first line of heroin. And by the time I got it up my nose and walked 30 feet to the counter, I knew this was what my mind and body had been craving for years. And that was it, that’s how easy the mind can be tricked into the hands of addiction.

As you can probably guess, things spiraled out of control from there. In the years that followed, I would do 3 more detox runs, despite the fact that I had overdosed 6 times! My last overdose was on thanksgiving 2014, in the bathroom at my mother in laws.

I realized I needed to try the methadone clinic. Because of my previous doctor, because of the stigma, I had always considered Methadone a “junkie who can’t quit drug”. So instead of saving myself the years of heroin addiction, I risked death at the expense of a stigma.

Many cities have banned methadone clinics because of the “undesired population” they attract. 

Today is July 28, 2016 and because of opioid replacement therapy, I haven’t used since since December 28th, 2014. Yes, the same drugs that I was so ashamed to use a few years ago, I now attribute to saving my life today. Not only that, it’s helped me build a life to be proud of. I learned to fight the stigma so deeply engrained in me, i’ve shown others how to do the same!

Not a day goes by where I don’t tear up thinking about all those who have died thinking they were not worth saving because of the stigma that presents a false sense of moral failure to describe addiction.

We all deserve life and happiness, the infinite value of life supersedes the stigmas and misconceptions about assisted drug replacement therapy. Now I spend my days teaching others how to use narcan. I encourage medication assisted recovery because it works and because taking my dose every day does not impede on my progress in life and recovery.

I want people to know that even if you are on Methadone or Suboxone until the day you die, if it helped you overcome the obsessive compulsions to use far more dangerous opiates, if it has helped you make a life out of one that previously did not exist, then THAT IS RECOVERY! Suboxone and Methadone do not have to be a last resort! After all, they don’t wait until you’re at stage 4 cancer to give you chemo do they?

So fight the stigma that surrounds opioid replacement therapy, because this same stigma might just prevent a loved one from receiving the treatment that would save their life.

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