In this modern age of medicine, the most common way of handling anything that causes a little bit of pain seems to be to find the right form of painkiller. Our country has become so dependent on pills to make the pain go away that we now, with only 5% of the world’s population, consume 80% of the world’s opioid supply, according to recent studies.
I thought about this when I had to have a tooth pulled not too long ago and was prescribed a bottle full of 10mg Percocet for the pain. Mind you, I’m a former opiate addict who at the time was thrilled to get a nice dose of my favorite drug for a dental visit but in reality, I was prescribed heavy painkillers for a little bit of soreness and discomfort in my mouth.
I’m not going to debate the necessities of painkillers for chronic pain management, I’ve never suffered from it and don’t pretend to be an expert on the best way to manage that kind of pain. I do know that my road down into the depths of heroin addiction started as innocently as one could imagine. I was a drunk for the majority of my 20’s and an athlete before that, so when I decided to do something about my alcohol addiction in my late 20’s, picking back up sports was naturally something I immediately gravitated towards. I had played high school basketball and it was one of the many things I had given up when my addiction hit full steam.
About two years into my sobriety I was playing pick-up ball and tweaked my back. It wasn’t anything serious and I knew that, but I was in enough discomfort that I couldn’t play and decided to see a doctor about it. He gave me a two-week supply of Percocet for the pain. Again, this was not a serious injury and I was expected to make a full recovery in a matter of days, but here I am living sober for the first time in my adult life getting prescribed painkillers for a very minor injury. At the time I was completely naïve to the dangers of opioid addiction as I had very little experience with drugs outside of alcohol.
I remember the euphoria I felt after that first pill, not to mention the elation knowing something could make me feel this good that didn’t make me drunk and stupid. The following weekend I joined my friends at the pool hall for the first time since I had gotten sober. The pill was my new drink. I could go out, feel more than euphoric enough to not need to drink, hang out with my drunk friends and show them how well I was doing and that I wasn’t a drunk anymore. I was on cloud 9. The following Monday I went to work, and as I was sitting at my desk writing my report that morning I remember like it was yesterday. A light bulb suddenly went off with the realization that writing that report would be a whole lot more fun with one of my trusty pain pills. I was right. And for a long time, I either loved work or hated work depending on whether or not I was high on opioids.
At that time, I had a nice, high-paying office job at a place I had spent years working towards being at, and just two short years after that fateful day when I went to the doctor for tweaking my back playing basketball, I was shooting up heroin.
It’s a sobering story and one that in 2019 isn’t all that uncommon. We have become so dependent on not suffering any kind of discomfort without a remedy that we have a full-blown opioid epidemic on our hands that appears to be getting worse. A lot of the focus seems to be on people doctor shopping or being prescribed copious amounts of oxycodone for chronic pain, but for a lot of folks like me, the root of the problem starts at a place where the dangers of opioid addiction are far off the radar.
The good news for me is that my story didn’t end in tragedy like so many others that weren’t as fortunate, and I am grateful every day that I reached out and became willing to get help before it became too late. As widespread as this epidemic has become, I hope someone out there struggling right now reads this and realizes the end of their story hasn’t been written yet and help is out there. If you are reading this and you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out.