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[ Opinion ]

Working In Recovery Industry, During The OpioId Epidemic

As I’ve mentioned before in a previous post, I work in an inpatient treatment facility. The facility has been treating alcoholism and drug addiction for over 30 years. Abstinence from alcohol and all mood-altering drugs is the facility’s primary goal for patients. A typical workweek for me can be very challenging, extremely busy, and sometimes I feel like I’m on the edge of burnout. Many days my heart feels heavy. It drives me crazy at times to know the battle to get insurance money for rehab stays is never ending for families. I’ve said many times, “These insurance companies have obviously never dealt with the pain and insanity of alcoholism and/or addiction.” I’ve let it go for the most part, as I know they too are just doing their jobs. It still doesn’t make me happy that it’s such a struggle these days for people to get treatment. If it weren’t for the fact that I have amazingly supportive parents that were able to come up with a way to pay for my treatment out of pocket, I wouldn’t have been able to seek treatment. I had no insurance, and I’m here to tell you-rehab ain’t cheap, folks.

One of the most eye-opening things for me since I’ve been working in an inpatient treatment facility is the terrifying heroin epidemic. Before working in the substance abuse field, and before I began my own journey in recovery from substance abuse nearly five years ago-I had heard so much about the heroin epidemic-but never actually knew how much heroin use had increased over the years. Sometimes I’ll have patients that ask me if I’m in recovery. I always tell them I am, and it usually is followed up with, “What was your DOC (Drug of Choice)?” Most of the time I say something along the lines of, “Well, in the end it was alcohol and benzos (benzodiazepines).” Because that’s the short version of, “I came into treatment to try to stop drinking Vodka every morning at 6 a.m., and taking Lord knows how many Klonopin or whatever other benzo/anti-anxiety pill I could get my hands on to get rid of the shakes. And 6 months prior to going to rehab, I was detoxed from opiates while I was in the hospital for 11 days with Acute Pancreatitis. And before that, I experimented with everything under the sun except heroin, crystal meth, and crack.” Think that kinda sums it up. Does that make me any different than any other drug addict or recovering drug addict? No. The answer is no.

I’ll forever be grateful I never gave in to the mystery of using a syringe to inject that life-sucking drug into my bloodstream. Thankfully, it really wasn’t even around much when I was out there, but today the heroin epidemic just isn’t letting up. I see the pain it causes daily. I see and hear about the near fatal overdoses and the ones that end in death. I hear the stories that boggle the mind. Addiction is a devastating disease for everyone involved in the struggle. It’s excruciatingly painful and tough to beat. And yes, relapse happens. That doesn’t mean you can’t start over.

In reflection on my life and the question I’ve asked myself, “Why didn’t I ever try heroin or any other IV drug for that matter?” Maybe my fear of needles-hey, a healthy fear in this case at least. Who knows-and I don’t need to know why. I struggled enough with painkillers. I know how painfully crippling, sick, physically and mentally ill- and how powerless I felt over opiate withdrawals. The lack of appetite, feelings of anxiousness, panic and dread that it’s never going to get better. The awful dehydration that no Gatorade can fix and the diarrhea no Imodium can touch. I remember thinking, “Okay, if I can just make it through the day, then the next day, then the next-maybe I’ll function again.” Then I’d try to lean on Suboxone, which consists of two drugs-buprenorphine and naloxone. Just like any other drug that isn’t managed properly by a physician or if the addict doesn’t use the medication properly, the tolerance builds. It’s just a vicious cycle of insanity.

One memory that will forever be etched in my mind was the first time I was around anyone shooting up. I went to a friend’s house with the person I was dating at the time and two others, including the friend that lived there. I think I was maybe 17 or 18 at the time. I’m not positive what the hell the guy was shooting up, but I remember the last time I saw him-he was laying in the backseat of a car in the garage. I asked what was up, and if he was okay. I was told he was sleeping. Passed out and waiting on the other two to take him back home. From what I can remember, I was home for maybe an hour or so when I got a phone call from the boyfriend-dude wasn’t sleeping, he was dead in the backseat. The other two found that out on the road trip to take the guy back home. Whether that memory contributed to my never shooting anything into my veins or not-it was fu****g scary, and I know it happens all too frequently. Sadly, the friend that lived in the house we were at that night is no longer alive either. I’m 32 years old, and I’ve lost more friends than both my parents put together. I’ve lost them to drugs, alcohol, suicide, and car accidents-some alcohol and drug induced, and some not. I just know it’s so many that I’ve lost count.

I’m glad I quit climbing the narcotic ladder before ending up with heroin as my hero, but everyday I’m on this beautiful earth-I will do what I can to help other addicts and alcoholics recover from addiction and alcoholism. With the help of each other, the planting of even one seed, we can all do what we can to end the destruction to an entire generation. We can end the silence and break the stigma of addiction. We do recover. And it’s amazing out there. We are free and no longer a prisoner of our past. The choice is yours.