Pain vs. Opioid Withdrawal – Can You Tell the Difference? Part 2 of 2
It only takes a little bit of pain to feel uncomfortable when dealing with possible withdrawal.
My first attempt at getting clean was using inpatient recovery, which for me didn’t work. The reason it didn’t work was because I went back to my old environment, my same home, my same habits, and everything snapped back into place just like before I went to treatment. Inpatient treatment can be a great option for some, but a Suboxone maintenance program was what I needed in order to stay clean in my home environment.
Addiction used to play a really bad trick on me.
A trick I discussed with an addiction specialist who confirmed my little theory. Here’s how it went:
At my highest drug use I was taking approximately 230 mg of oxycodone every day. An OxyContin or two was often added if I had them. I was taking a 10 or 20mg Oxy almost every hour on the hour, feeling like if I didn’t I was surely going into withdrawal. But, another thing happened in addition to withdrawal. My lower back would start to hurt like crazy. Not a little, a LOT. I was convinced I had very serious lower back pain issues and was even considering back surgery.
Every one to two hours my lower back would hurt like mad. I would take a pill and the pain would subside for about an hour. All the while, craving more and more oxycodone.
The day I went into inpatient treatment, they cut me off completely. I arrived at 10am, and had had my last dose of oxy the night before at 11pm. I assumed I’d get to treatment and they’d begin medicating me immediately. Boy, was I wrong.
They sent me to my room and gave me some books to read. (The AA Big Book and 12 & 12). I laid in bed reading and before noon the pain begun.
Remember, I arrived at 10am. Was used to taking oxy every 1-2 hours. My last dose was the night before at 11pm.
Well, by 2pm I was dying. Writhing in pain, telling myself I had made a terrible mistake. No matter if I get clean or not, what is going to take care of this extreme back pain I’m experiencing?
By 2pm I was sure I was not going to make it, I asked repeatedly when I would get meds for the pain. The withdrawals at this point were nothing compared to the pain in my lower back. I laid in agony in that bed for hours curled up in a ball, unable to get any relief, getting angrier by the second.
Andrew, Your Meds Have Been Ordered
After my 20th request for pain meds, the intake specialist leveled with me. “Andrew, your meds have been ordered. But you’re not going to get them until you’re in full withdrawal, which could take another 24 hours.” I remember telling this kind young man these very words: “Brother, I’m not going to be here in 24 hours if I don’t get some f’ing pain relief!”
I continued laying in bed, completely miserable, Angry at addiction, angry at the treatment center, angry at life, and angry at myself for getting myself into this mess to begin with. The difference being, I was now sure I had a dsbilitating lower back issue that would require a lifetime of pain medication. I was sure of it. I’ve never felt back pain half this intensity. It was overwhelming.
At 6:45 pm that day, a nurse came into my room and assessed me. She left the room for a moment and came right back to tell me it was time for me to receive my meds.
I think I ran her over trying to get to the nurses station quick enough. I can promise you, my back pain was so intense at that time I would have tried heroin with a needle if it had been offered to me, Something I never thought I’d do. Yes, I would have done it in that moment. The remedy mattered not. Pain relief was ALL I could think about and I would have paid any price to obtain it.
A nurse gave me an 8mg tablet of Subutex (buprenorphine without the naloxone blocking agent) and watched me like a hawk as it dissolved under my tongue. I sat near the nurses station for twenty minutes, still ready to punch someone in the face due to the intense back pain I was feeling. The nurse then gave me another 8mg tablet of Subutex and aain I sat for twenty minutes.
At some point while waiting, I picked up a magazine and began reading. I’m honestly not sure how long I sat there reading. About 45-minutes is my guess. The reason I sat there paying no attention ti time was because approximately 10-minutes after my second tablet of Subutex, my back pain nearly vanished. I didn’t notice it happen, but I certainly began to relax got caught up in a magazine and the time started to pass without my knowing it.
For the first time in almost 13 years, my back pain was completely gone, I wasn’t “high”, I wasn’t sleepy and I didn’t feel any euphoria. In fact, I felt normal. Like, normal in the way I felt before I started taking pain pills 13 years prior. I remember I went to the cafeteria and ate the biggest meal I had eaten in over a year. I was starving. Food tasted unbelievably good. I even topped it off with two Butterfinger candy bars and went straight to sleep. I slept like a baby that night. 13 hours of precious sleep if I’m not mistaken.
The next day I woke up and for the first time in 13 years I wasn’t thinking about taking another pill. My cravings had also left me. Subutex was a miracle drug, as far as I was concerned.
What the Hell Happened to My Intense Back Pain?
As mentioned above, I was sure I had had a very serious lower back issue (if not multiple issues) for almost 13 years. Issues that I assumed would require a lifetime of pain meds and/or back surgery. Yet, this one little pill (well, two actually) completely knocked it out. So what the hell happened to my back pain?
The addiction specialist gave me a clear understanding of what had happened to me over and over again for 13 years of drug abuse. He explained it like this:
“When you’re addicted to opiates, the brain plays tricks on you. It will do whatever it needs to in order to motivate you into taking more opiates. That’s why addicts will do things they never dreamed they’d do just to get ahold of more drugs. Things like steal from family, lie and take money from people they love, etc. The addicted brain is in total control, and it’s ingenious in the way it manipulates the person.
Your brain was using back pain to motivate you to use more drugs. Short-acting opiates like oxycodone only have their full-potential for about 3 hours. Everytime you’d take a pill you get temporary relief, and then 1-2 hours later your brain triggered lower back pain, knowing you’d do whatever was necessary to feed it more opiates. And, it worked like a charm. The addicted brain is smart – it will choose and use whichever weakness it has to to get more drugs.”
Suboxone to the Rescue!
Inpatient treatment was not the final solution for me but it did introduce me to the pain-relieving benefits of Suboxone and group recovery, which I absolutely love. Not only that, but Suboxone lasts for days and it contains a blocking agent that helps with cravings. No more hourly cravings, no more back pain and no more withdrawals. Suboxone indeed saved my life, and then paved the way for me to engage therapy, group recovery, and much, much more.
Suboxone for Pain Management?
Currently, Suboxone is not prescribed for pain in the United States. However it is used for pain management in other countries, and with great effectiveness from what I’ve read. I can say first-hand, Suboxone is without a doubt a brilliant solution for pain management. However, you can only get Suboxone prescribed in the USA for addiction treatment.
So, go get the help of a doctor who prescribes Suboxone for addiction treatment, and gain the benefits of the pain relieving benefits it offers. But do remember – Suboxone is an opiate and is addictive. To stop taking Suboxone typically requires a long taper assisted by a physician. And, due to its long half-life, legal format and connection to recovery, it has become a wonderful solution for myself.
Thanks for reading 🙂
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