Suboxone Success Story

I’ve posted the following interview on my blog before, but I’d like to post it again, for maximum readership. I’ve had patients and readers say this interview helped them think differently about Suboxone, and how they feel about taking it.

JB: Please tell me about your experience with pain pill addiction and your experiences with buprenorphine (Suboxone).

XYZ: For me, my opiate addiction got so bad, I was taking two hundred and forty to three hundred and twenty milligrams of OxyContin per day, just to stay normal. It had gotten really, really bad. And it started out with a reason. I had kidney stones, and I was in all this pain, but then it got to the point where it solved some other problems in my life and it got out of hand. I tried a lot of different things. I went to detox, and they helped me, but it was…it was almost like I never came out of withdrawal.

JB: How long were you off pain pills?

XYZ: Even after being clean for thirty or sixty days, I would still feel bad. Bowels, stomach…really all the time.

JB: Did it feel like acute withdrawal or just low grade withdrawal?

XYZ: No, it depended on the point…I’d try to fix it myself, sometimes, and I would just put myself back where I was. It got to the point where I was making myself sicker and sicker and sicker. And then I got off of it, and stayed off of it for a hundred and twenty days, I guess…but still just sick. Just miserable, and not feeling right. I was miserable. I wouldn’t eat, I was losing weight…

It [buprenorphine] gave me something that replaced whatever was going on in my head physically, with the receptors. It took that [prolonged withdrawal] away, to the point that I felt well. All that energy I would spend getting pills…and I was going to the doctors almost daily. Because taking that much medicine, nobody would write me for that much, so I had to doctor shop.

JB: Did you go to the internet [to order pain pills]?

XYZ: I did. But on the internet, the only things that I found were hydrocodone, so it would take a lot of those. I was concerned about my liver, from the Tylenol in them.

My only life was going to the doctors, figuring out what pharmacy I could use. I had a whole system of how many days it could be between prescriptions, what pharmacy to go to. It was sick. I was just trying to not get sick.

JB: And you were working during that time?

XYZ: Yeah! I was working, if you want to call it that. I wasn’t a very good employee, but I held a job. I was a regional vice president for “X” company. I traveled a lot, so I had new states where I could see new doctors. That was bad. When I came off the road, I owed $50,000 in credit card bills.

JB: And your wife didn’t know about it?

XYZ: No. It all came tumbling down. And I had gotten into trouble, because they were company credit cards, and they wanted the money back! So, all of the sudden my wife found out that not only do I have a pain pill problem, but we’re $50,000 short, and I wasn’t very ethical in the way I got the money, because it really wasn’t my credit, it was my company’s credit card.

JB: So addiction made you do things you wouldn’t do otherwise?

XYZ: Absolutely. I lied to people, I took money from people, I ran up credit cards tens of thousands of dollars, and really put my family in serious jeopardy at that time. But buprenorphine took away that whole obsessive-compulsive need for pills, made me feel better, and took away all the withdrawal symptoms at the same time. I didn’t worry about it.

To be honest, I was such a hypochondriac before. I haven’t been sick in years now. I haven’t had a backache or headache that ibuprofen didn’t cure [since starting recovery]. I was fortunate it was all in my head. I would milk any little thing. I had two knee operations that probably could have been healed through physical therapy, but I was all for surgery, because I knew I’d get pain pills.

JB: That’s the power of addiction!

XYZ:  I did some research about this [meaning buprenorphine].

JB: How did you do your research?

XYZ: Online. Actually, I had some good family members, who did some research and brought it to me, because they were concerned for me, and they brought it to me and said, “Hey, there’s a medicine that can help. Call this number,” and I found places out there that would do it [meaning Suboxone], but my concern was the speed that a lot of them were doing it. A lot of them said, OK come in, and we can evaluate you, and after a week you’ll be down to this, and after a month you’ll be down to this.

This was in 2005. And when I asked them what their success rate is, it wasn’t very high. It was something like twenty percent of the people who were doing it [succeeded]. So when I’d finally gotten a hold of “X,” [receptionist for Dr. “Y”], she saved my life over the phone. Because she said, you can come tomorrow, and she said that whatever it takes, they’ll work with you. And I felt good about going to a place where it wasn’t already determined how long it would take. Because I already knew how I was feeling after I would come off of opiates. I didn’t want to do that again.

I saw Dr. “Y” and felt better within twenty-four hours, although it took a little while to get the dosage right. I think we started off at a lower dose, then we went up on the dose and it kept me so level. I had no symptoms. It cured my worst withdrawal symptoms, my stomach and my bowels.

There’s always a kind of stigma in the rooms [12-step recovery meetings] because I’d been in NA for a little bit of time then [he’s speaking of stigma against medication-assisted treatment]. You realize who [among addicts in NA] is die-hard, one way to do recovery, and who is willing to be educated about some things and understand that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

And I was fortunate that I had a sponsor at that time, and still do, who was willing to learn about what exactly it was, and not make me feel guilty about it. It wasn’t necessarily the way he would do it, but he was a cocaine addict, so he didn’t understand that whole part of it.

He said, “Your family’s involved, you’ve got a doctor that’s involved, your doctor knows your history. If all these people, who are intelligent, think this is an OK thing, then who am I to say it’s not going to work?” He was open-minded. And there are not a lot of people I would trust right off the bat [in recovery], that I would tell them. [that he’s taking Suboxone]. I’ve shared it with some people who’ve had a similar problem, and told them, here’s something that might help you. I always preface it with, [don’t do] one thing or another, you’ve got to do them together. You have to have a recovery program and take this medicine, because together it will work. Look at me. I’m a pretty good success story.

One of my best friends in Florida called me, and I got him to go see a doctor down there, and he’s doing well now. He’s been on it almost eleven months now and no relapses.

To me, it takes away the whole mental part of it, because you don’t feel bad. For me, it was the feeling bad that drove me back to taking something [opioids] again. Obviously, when you’re physically feeling bad, you’re mentally feeling bad, too. It makes you depressed, and all of that, so you avoid doing fun things, because you don’t feel good.

Once I trained myself with NA, how to get that portion of my life together, to use those tools, not having any kind of physical problems made it that much easier to not obsess.

JB: So, how has your life improved, as a result of being on buprenorphine?

XYZ: Well, the most important thing for me is that I’ve regained the trust of my family. I was the best liar and manipulator there was. I’d like to think of myself as a pretty ethical and honest person, in every aspect of my life, other than when it came to taking pills.

JB: So, you regained the trust of your family, felt physically better…

XYZ: I gained my life back! Fortunately, I had enough of a brain left to know it had to stop. Once I started on buprenorphine, it gave me back sixteen hours a day that I was wasting. That’s when I decided I really don’t want to jeopardize my recovery, by going out and looking for a job again [he means a job in corporate America, like he had in the past], because I’ve got this thing, this stigma…they’re going to check a reference and I’m screwed. I’m not going to get a job doing what I was doing for the same amount of money. 

My brother had enough faith in me that it was worth the risk of starting this business [that he has now] together. I spent hours setting up a [type of company] in a ten foot by twenty foot room above my house. My wife and I started on EBay,  and slowly grew it to the point that, three years later, I’m going to do over two million dollars in sales this year, I’ve got [large company] as a client, I’ve got [large company] as a client, I’m doing stuff locally, in the community now, and can actually give things back to the community.

JB: And you employ people in recovery?

XYZ: Oh, yeah. I employ other addicts I know I can trust. I’ve helped some people out who have been very, very successful and have stayed clean, and I’ve helped some people out who came and went, but at the same time, I gave them a chance. You can only do so much for somebody. They have to kind of want to do it themselves too, right?

JB: Have you ever had any bad experiences in the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous, as far as being on Suboxone, or do you just not talk to anybody about it?

XYZ: To be honest, I don’t broadcast it, obviously, and the only other people I would talk to about it would be somebody else who was an opioid addict, who was struggling, who was in utter misery. The whole withdrawal process…not only does it take a little while, but all that depression, the body [feels bad]. So I’ve shared with those I’ve known fairly well. I share my experience with them. I won’t necessarily tell people I don’t know well that I’m taking buprenorphine, but I will let them know about the medication. Even though the information is on the internet, a lot of it is contradictory.

It’s been great [speaking of Suboxone] for someone like me, who’s been able to put a life back together in recovery. I’d tell anybody, who’s even considering taking Suboxone, if they’re a true opioid pill addict, (I don’t know about heroin, I haven’t been there), once you get to the right level [meaning dose], it took away all of that withdrawal. And if you combine it with going to meetings, you’ll fix your head at the same time. Really. I didn’t have a job, unemployable, my family was…for a white collar guy, I was about as low as I could go, without being on the street.

Fortunately I came from a family that probably wouldn’t let that happen, at that point, but who knows, down the road… I had gotten to my low. And that’s about it, that’s about as much as I could have taken.

It [Suboxone] truly and honestly gave me my entire life back, because it took that away.

JB: What do you say to treatment centers that say, if you’re still taking methadone or Suboxone, you’re not in “real” recovery? What would you say to those people?

XYZ: To me, I look at taking Suboxone like I look at taking high blood pressure medicine, OK? It’s not mind altering, it’s not giving me a buzz, it’s not making…it’s simply fixing something I broke in my body, by abusing the hell out of it, by taking all those pain pills.

I know it’s hard for an average person, who thinks about addicts, “You did it to yourself, too bad, you shouldn’t have done that in the first place,” to be open minded. But you would think the treatment centers, by now, have seen enough damage that people have done to themselves to say, “Here’s something that we have proof that works…..”

I function normally. I get up early in the morning. I have a relationship with my wife now, after all of this, and she trusts me again. Financially, I’ve fixed all my problems, and have gotten better. I have a relationship with my kids. My wife and I were talking about it the other day. If I had to do it all over again, would I do it the way I did it? And the answer is, absolutely yes. As much as it sucked and as bad as it was, I would have still been a nine to five drone out there in corporate America, and never had the chance to do what I do. I go to work…this is dressy for me [indicating that he’s dressed in shorts and a tee shirt]

JB: So life is better now than it was before the addiction?

XYZ: It really is. Tenfold! I’m home for my kids. I wouldn’t have had the courage to have left a hundred thousand dollar a year job to start up a tee-shirt business. I had to do something. Fortunately, I was feeling good enough because of it [Suboxone], to work really hard at it, like I would have if I started it as a kid. At forty years old, to go out and do something like that…

JB: Like a second career.

XYZ: It’s almost like two lives for me. And if you’re happy, nothing else matters. I would have been a miserable, full time manager, out there working for other people and reaping the benefits for them and getting my little paycheck every week and traveling, and not seeing my wife and kids, and not living as well as I do now.

I joke, and say that I work part time now, because when I don’t want to work, I don’t have to work. And when I want to work, I do work. And there are weeks that I do a lot. But then, on Saturday, we’re going to the beach. I rented a beach house Monday through Saturday, with just me and my wife and our two kids. I can spend all my time with them. I could never have taken a vacation with them like that before.

JB: Do you have anything you’d like to tell the people who make drug addiction treatment policy decisions in this nation? Anything you want them to know?

XYZ: I think it’s a really good thing they increased the amount of patients you [meaning doctors prescribing Suboxone] can take on. I’d tell the people who make the laws to find out from the doctors…how did you come up with the one hundred patient limit? What should that number be? And get it to that number, so it could help more people. And if there’s a way to get it cheaper, because the average person can’t afford it.

The main thing I’d tell them is I know it works. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve achieved. And I wouldn’t have been able to do that, had I not had the help of Suboxone. It took me a little while to get over thinking it was a crutch. But at this point, knowing that I’ve got everybody in my corner, they’re understanding what’s going on…it’s a non-issue. It’s like I said, it’s like getting up and taking a high blood pressure medicine.

This patient obviously has a healthy recovery on buprenorphine, and plans to continue his present recovery program. He goes regularly to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, has a sponsor, works the twelve steps of recovery, and contributes to NA by sponsoring people and doing other service work. He had such a good outcome, because he didn’t neglect the psychological aspect of his recovery, even after Suboxone took away the physical withdrawal symptoms.

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Great interview. Wonderful to hear someone who has turned their life around. Keep up the good work on your blog.

    Reply

  2. Posted by db89g23 on June 26, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    The one step that is missing is the LAST step, which is very difficult for some people – that is getting off Suboxone itself. I’d like to hear experience about this.

    Reply

    • This particular patient plans to stay on Suboxone.

      Reply

      • Posted by db89g23 on June 26, 2011 at 11:03 pm

        Hmm… I wonder sometimes if that is my destination too. I’ve been on Suboxone for 6 years or so. I did get off at one point, staying off for about 6 months. I tapered down extremely low, then finally kicked it. I didn’t sleep for a couple weeks, but I’d call the WDs mild in comparison to what I’d been through before. Coming off anything but a tiny dose is much more difficult.

        The problem with staying on Suboxone is that I personally do not feel ‘right’. I feel numb to the world. I also do not like the feeling of dependence, it is an uneasy feeling knowing you must have a drug to get out of bed in the morning. Other people may feel differently, but I am not sure that life on Suboxone is real life. It’s something. I can work quite productively, as can this patient, but … something is just not right.

  3. Posted by db89g23 on June 26, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    I should have also mentioned my point of reference: The period I was off of Suboxone was simply marvelous. I felt in touch with myself, and spiritually aware (as opposed to dead). Having a sex drive again also was fairly nice, lol. I also felt considerably more healthy. Suboxone will keep me going through about anything, but I become unaware of the signs my body is sending. Such as exercise, eat, sleep, etc.. Eventually it catches up with me.

    Reply

    • It’s great you felt that good off of it.
      Maybe you should talk with your doctor about relapse prevention strategies since it appears you tapered off Suboxone without excessive difficulty, but had a relapse. Maybe look at your relapse in detail, figure out what happened so you can avoid it next time?

      Reply

      • Posted by db89g23 on June 27, 2011 at 12:00 am

        That is indeed the solution. However, there is strong pressure from every side to go to AA or NA, but I’ve yet to develop the courage to actually attend (again). Previous experiences with NA were less than compelling for me. I never got hooked on the program like others have. This is the source of a bit of a rift right now, as my shame from not yet attending is preventing an open exchange and causing me considerable stress. In fact, the pressure to go to NA or AA is the second most compelling reason to get off Suboxone. To argue about reasons why I don’t feel it is right for me only makes me seem in denial. I suppose the obvious solution is to just go.

      • Twelve step meetings have been successful for millions of people over the last seventy-five years in multiple countries. That’s why most doctors (including me) suggest it for our patients. It has a proven track record. Plus it’s free.

        But not everyone wants to go to 12-step meetings. There are other options, thankfully. One alternative is to see an individual therapist who can work with you, one on one, to talk about the previous relapse and extract useful information. Many therapists also have their own groups. Groups are helpful in a special way, because there’s something about seeing ourselves in other people that teaches us things we can’t learn in other ways.

        Some communities have non-12-step meetings available for people with addiction. You may want to do an internet search for these to see if they’re available:

        Life Ring Secular Recovery is a non-profit recovery group that was formed in 1997. This organization split from another non-twelve step group, called Sober Organizations for Sobriety. Life Ring meetings are run by volunteer members, called “convenors.” Life Ring does endorse complete abstinence from alcohol and all addicting drugs, and doesn’t encourage belief in a higher power. This group publishes, “How Was Your Week,” as a guide to be used in meetings, and also publishes a larger workbook titled, “Recovery by Choice.”

        SOS, which stands for both Secular Organizations for Sobriety, and for Saving Ourselves, says on its website that it’s an “abstinence based self empowerment program.” It was formed in 1986 by James Christopher, a recovering alcoholic who felt uncomfortable with AA’s approach

        Rational Recovery (RR), a for-profit organization, has no meetings now, though it did have them in the past. Rational Recovery employs the same concepts as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, and Rational-Emotive Behavioral Therapy. Rational Recovery believes that addiction is not a disease, but a voluntary behavior, which can be overcome with one’s own efforts. In 1999, the founder, Jack Trimpey, announced that recovery meetings were not helpful, and in fact were harmful, and declared all RR meetings closed. Rational Recovery does have a two-day seminar one can attend for $2600, or a VHS tape containing the same material for $449 advertised for sale on the Rational Recovery website. He has written a small book, titled Rational Recovery which can be purchased at most bookstores.

        There have been few, if any, objective studies of these secular recovery programs. One study was done of RR back in 1993, when it still held meetings, and found frequency of RR meeting attendance to be associated with abstinence.

        Women For Sobriety (WFS), formed in 1976 by Jean Kirkpatrick, Ph.D., is a secular recovery group for women only, as the name implies. This group has a thirteen step program, which encourages emotional and spiritual growth, through both meetings and literature. This group believes that female alcoholics require a different treatment approach than men.

        Some patients with strong religious beliefs prefer to participate in recovery groups with persons of their own religion. Overcomers Outreach, and Celebrate Recovery are designed for the Christian religion, and Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons, and Significant Others (JACS) for the Jewish religion, to name but a few.

        My point is that you have options.

  4. Posted by john on June 10, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    I had been on suboxone for 7 years myself. And yes I agree that it gave me my life back in a sense that I was able to hold a great job and start a family and stay off of street drugs. It has now been 3 weeks since I had quit taking suboxone and am feeling better as the weeks go. What I dont understand is how you could expect someone to take something that they are physically and mentally dependant on for the rest of their lives without knowing what side affects it would have on the human body. It is unclear at this time what that might be. And what happens if the drug is taken away, wouldn’t the addict need to replace it immediately to survive, since it is highly addictive? I think in my opinion if this drug was used in a proper way, meaning short term only, it would benefit people more than allowing someone, like myself to stay on it for several years, causing a whole new addictive beast to form. I praise what suboxone does for addicts it is a miracle, but I dont believe that anybody should have to spend their entire lives dependant on a drug, for addiction. And I state for addiction! Addiction is curable if the addict wants it to be and thats the only way. I am glad and proud to know on this day 21 that I dont have to wake up and rely on something to get me “through” this day, I have my own mind and body back. God Bless.

    Reply

    • Repeated studies show that short term use has relapse rates of 80-90+% within one year. That’s why it’s used as maintenance. So far as we know, opioids’ side effects are more the nuisance things like constipation, sweating, weight gain, etc, and not bad things like bone marrow suppression, liver failure, heart disease. So patients do better on a maintenance opioid, so long as it is very long-acting and only needs to be dosed once per day.
      I do agree that drug-free recovery is an ideal, and attainable for some people in the long run. Other people feel better and have better lives if they stay on opioids.
      Opioid addiction is a potentially fatal illness. Compared to dying of this disease, taking a maintenance medication once a day doesn’t look so bad.

      Reply

    • Posted by Truth on November 27, 2014 at 6:13 am

      @JOHN; I love what you wrote & I am inspired by you being off subs after having been on them 7 years. I would be so grateful if you could share how you are doing, what you did to get off/stay off & any other suggestions.

      Reply

  5. Posted by kala dedman on June 11, 2017 at 12:08 am

    ON SUB NO DOING GREAT AND GOT MY LIFE BACK KALA

    Reply

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