By the time I was 17, a junior in high school, I was addicted to opiates. I did not have a pain issue at that point in my life. I started using for fun, due to a combination of curiosity and naivety that made a serious impact on my life, and still affects me.
I didn’t know what oxycontin really was until it was too late and I was already addicted – none of us did. I had no idea that it was so closely related to heroin. I thought it was like Xanax (little did I know the danger involved with those either). When I first started doing opiates I wouldn’t touch cocaine, I knew that was a bad thing to become involved with. I know that probably doesn’t make sense, but I really had no idea how dangerous Xanax and opiates were.
This story isn’t just about me though – a lot of my friends were in the same position. This story is also about the many people who became part of the new gold rush of opiate sales about 15 years ago. None of us had any idea what we were involved with, even the manufacturer of oxycontin lied about it’s addictive properties. Doctors were prescribing it to everyone and people were also stealing it from the pharmacy where they worked. Yeah, that’s right, kids stealing from a pharmacy. They ended up in court. Hopefully that’s a clear enough picture of how abundant and easily accessible oxycontin was. It’s crazy, you don’t even have to be addicted for opiates to cause major problems in your life.
The first time I tried it, I loved it. It numbed the anxiety and depression I felt at the time. That almost proved to be a deadly combination a few times. The addiction progressed rapidly and I did a lot of things that I could never consider now to maintain it. Stealing, lying, and cheating friends and family out of whatever I could manage, then lying some more about it. No time for a job, finding oxy and scheming to buy it took all of my evenings after school. I hated needles, but I ended up shooting up eventually. You’re not yourself anymore when you’re addicted. The addiction takes over and all that shit you said you’d never do, you start doing. Before I started shooting up, I had to sniff at least 80mg of oxycontin to feel high in the slightest. It was starting to become rather expensive to supply myself with daily at .50 cents/mg. I thought shooting up was was a practical idea at the time. I can get high off of 20mg? Shit, sign me up. I didn’t know what hit me the first time I shot oxycontin. I was in mid sentence leaning against the bathroom counter at a friend’s house. He was doing it for me. Before the plunger of the syringe was all the way in, I started slurring my words and my knees buckled. I was in love. No idea how far gone I was at the time, it was bad. Seventeen years old and shooting up opiates. I overdosed a few times in that brief period. It’s a scary feeling when you realize your body doesn’t want to keep breathing and staying awake. Knowing that if you fall asleep anytime soon, you’re going to quit breathing.
My addiction effected my whole family as well. My grandmother found my pills once, on another occasion she wasn’t able to wake me up because I’d gotten too high. It scared the hell out of her, she had no idea what was happening. I was fighting with my parents all the time. My sister didn’t know what was going on with me. I quit playing soccer for the high school I went to and the travel team I was on. I had to drop out of high school my senior year to go to rehab. I wasn’t allowed to try and make the time up so I was forced to get my GED. Rehab was expensive, my parents had to take out a second mortgage on their house to afford it. I saw people get kicked out of rehab due to money issues. It’s sad how addiction is treated here. Even if you want to stop you better have the money to afford treatment of some kind.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is tell my parents I needed help because I was going to die soon if I didn’t stop doing opiates. I cried for 45 minutes before I could even get out a few words: “I need help, I’m sorry.” They hugged me, told me they loved me, and that they would get me help. Simple as that. I’d been so scared to tell them for months, all the while just maintaining my addiction so I didn’t get sick. A giant burden had been lifted just to admit my problem to my parents and and ask for help. It was the first step in a long road of recovery.
I was in detox at Forsyth Hospital in Winston Hospital the week before I was 18, I couldn’t be admitted to rehab until I was 18. In the couple of days I was at home between the detox center and going into rehab, I managed to find opiates. Even though I had made the decision to stop using, I still sought out more opiates – that’s how powerful addiction can be. Of course I didn’t admit this to my parents, I was completely ashamed that I had done it. Thinking I didn’t need it, they didn’t pay for detox at the new place. I needed it. The withdrawal was two weeks of pure hell. I could barely keep down food, often I wasn’t even hungry. I couldn’t regulate my body temperature, I was either freezing or sweating, and sometimes both at once. I could only sleep a few minutes at a time each night. Every night I called my parents, crying and begging to come back home. Telling them I can’t take being up here, I’m not strong enough to do this. I can’t imagine how that made them feel. Having your child beg you crying to come help them and all you can say to them is no, we can’t. You can do this, you are strong enough to beat this. That had to be a personal hell for them too.
I still tried to find opiates occasionally after I left rehab but they were not as easy to obtain. I knew it was only a matter of time before I could get them though, so I moved, feeling that I had no choice but to go somewhere that nobody I knew used opiates. That worked, along with using cannabis to get through the terrible withdrawal symptoms and to mitigate opiate cravings.
Now, I’m thirty three and have been dealing with degenerative disk disease for a few years. It causes a lot of pain due to the disks not being able to protect the nerves at C6 and C7 anymore. The orthopedic surgeon wants me to have a spinal fusion, but that scares the hell out of me. Especially since the nature of a degenerative disorder means more disks will probably fail and even more surgery will be required. The pain radiates out through my shoulder blade and shoulder, and feels like there’s a knife stuck in my elbow, and burns all the way down to my hands as well. It’s an interesting feeling when your arms can go numb and still hurt like hell. Nerve issues cause strange problems. Some days it’s nearly impossible to go to work and be productive. I can’t take opiates, and the non-narcotic pain medicine I was given left me feeling too spaced out to do my job. I still just couldn’t think well after a couple weeks. I had to quit taking it. Cannabis is the only thing that provides relief and still allows me to function.
Unlike many, I was able to stop using opiates. If it wasn’t for my amazing family, friends and cannabis I don’t know if I’d be here typing this today. Those two weeks of pure hell made me never want to experience that again. Maybe that was exactly what I needed to stop, that reminder of the hell that was waiting for me if I went back. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. Everything that it has taught me is invaluable. I also realized the power of cannabis as an exit drug from opiates. I’ve been off opiates for 15 years now, but they still affect my life. I still have friends battling opiate addictions. I’m still going to funerals of my friends at an unnecessary rate for being 33 and not being involved in gang/drug violence. I have no idea why I’m alive and others aren’t. I thought I was going to die on a few occasions during that time frame from an overdose. I don’t need to know why I’m lucky, just that I am to have made it out alive. I won’t waste the chance to try and make a difference. If my story can help others recover, never start using opiates, or make people understand how badly we need legal access to cannabis here in North Carolina, I’m happy to share it. Please don’t be afraid to reach out if you have a problem. It may literally be the difference between life and death. There’s always a chance to come back from an addiction. Death is another story though, so tell someone before it’s too late.