My Experience With Suboxone

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My Experience With Suboxone

By Maria Weeks 07/23/15

All I can say is, Suboxone, when taken properly, is quite the miracle drug

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Maria Weeks
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The first time I’d heard about Suboxone, also known as buprenorphine, was when I was in a fancy rehab, which has now been shut down because of the owner, Dr. Jones*, allegedly “overmedicating his patients.”

Dr. Jones had been on a popular show about addiction and behaved like one of the foremost experts on Suboxone. What gave him credibility also was the fact that he once was an opiate addict himself. Personally, I was not in his rehab for opiates, but for alcohol and Klonopin abuse. But what I kept hearing from all the counselors was that Dr. Jones was known as the “alchemist," because he’d gotten so many people, pain patients as well, off opiates.

When I got out of his rehab, I didn’t relapse on alcohol or Klonopin, but I did discover something new: tramadol, a very weak-acting opioid that when taken in large amounts could produce a sense of well-being and euphoria. I became heavily addicted because it was cheap and legal to buy over-the-counter in Tijuana. (I live in San Diego.) So once I got up to 20-30 pills a day, I knew I had to stop and was shocked at how difficult it was just to cut down—even a couple of pills at a time. I noticed irritability and anxiety overwhelming me if I didn’t take the exact same amount every day. So who did I turn to? Dr. Jones.

At first, he was a little hesitant, saying I’d just go ahead and get addicted to Subs as well and I asked him why (since I didn’t know Suboxone was even an opiate). So he explained how Suboxone is a partial agonist, meaning it only fills the opiate receptors in your brain halfway—enough to eradicate physical withdrawal symptoms, but not enough to cause euphoria. So I asked him: “Well, if you say it won’t get me high then why do you have a problem prescribing it to me?” He just shook his head, and said: “Well, you do have a point there ... so come into my office Monday morning at 9am and do not take any tramadol the night before.”

So I showed up for what they call the “induction” where they administer you the pill and basically make you sit in a room for a couple of hours to make sure you don’t have any negative side effects. One of the main ones is “precipitated withdrawals,” a condition that occurs when a person doesn’t wait until they’re in withdrawal before taking Suboxone, and due to its formidable ability to latch on to the opiate receptors, Suboxone will bump off the previous opiates, causing one to go into immediate withdrawal. He put me on a very low dosage: only two milligrams a day. The maximum dosage is 32mgs, and most people are on about eight to sixteen.

I have to say, I was so relieved: no more worrying about procuring 30 tramadols a day. And, I felt good—in fact, I don’t remember ever feeling so good in my entire life! Suboxone behaved in the way you wish anti-depressants would. When I came back a month later, Dr. Jones rhapsodized about the “change” in me—that I was for once in my life acting “normal.” I have to add that Dr. Jones was one of those doctors that believes in the “opiate deficiency” theory and that most addicts should stay on “opiate replacement therapy” for the rest of their lives. However, in all fairness to him, he never tried to keep his patients on it—if they wanted off, he was more than willing to help them with a weaning schedule.

I came back for three more months, and every time Dr. Jones said the same thing: “God, I can’t believe how 'normal' you’ve become.” He even told me once that he believed “Suboxone to be the greatest ‘mood stabilizer,’ the world has ever discovered,” giving me the impression he thought the entire population should be on it.

I gotta say, though, being on that low of a dose was absolutely perfect for me: my mind felt sharp, yet I felt content—a feeling I hadn’t had in ages. But, I didn’t like the idea of being physically addicted to Suboxone so I told Dr. Jones after the third month, I would be detoxing off them. I slowly cut down and then “jumped off” as they say. I didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms for about 48 hours, but when they came, man, it was awful! I felt like painful electric currents were coursing through my body; my hands felt like I’d touched a hot stove. I didn’t get any sleep for five days. I had no energy, threw up a lot, and was monumentally miserable. However, by day five, I slept and woke up with no more withdrawals. I was so happy! Finally, I was drug free. Yay!

Then I did one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever done—a couple of years later, I got on Suboxone again, but this time, for “pain management.” I was working as a salesperson that necessitated walking through this behemoth of a showroom on a cement floor, and my whole body, especially my feet, legs, and hips were in agony. I didn’t go back to Dr. Jones, and instead picked out another doctor from the Yellow Pages. He was a lot cheaper than Dr. Jones and was quite cavalier about coming in for check-up meetings—he told me I could come in anytime I wanted to, in contrast to most doctors that make it mandatory for you to show up weekly the first month, and then monthly, for some time after that. Then to make my decision even more preposterous, instead of asking to be put on two milligrams like I was on before, or maybe eight milligrams at the most, I told this doctor I wanted to be on the highest dosage possible: 32 friggin’ milligrams! Somewhere in my addict brain, I always associated “more” as “better.” At first, the Suboxone gave me a wonderful boost on a psychological level as well as eradicating pain—I felt so on top of things—nothing bothered me. No matter how rude a customer was, I felt like a Buddhist priest, showing only compassion and patience for their frequent, insufferable demands.

But gradually, the Subs stopped working in every sense of the word. It was like my Suboxone had been some kind of magical elixir that had now been replaced by a placebo. My anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, and physical pain were coming back with alarming alacrity. It wasn’t like I could up the dosage, because of the “ceiling effect” of the drug—no matter how much I took, it was not going to make me feel any better.

So here I was with this tremendous tolerance to a drug that was becoming more ineffectual by the day. And then, I developed what is known as “hyperalgesia,” a condition that frequently occurs in opiate users. It basically means you develop a very painful condition in the body that opiates themselves have produced. It’s also called “manufactured pain.” And then there is the issue of “rebound pain,” which means essentially, once the opiates wear off, all those little pain messages that opiates were blocking are now coming through at once like a dam being broken—your brain becomes flooded with them, making one’s level of pain exponentially higher. Actually, one of the biggest culprits of “rebound pain” is aspirin, and the only course of treatment available is to stop taking it.

Around this time, I went through a very deep depression and lost my job. And then I had a nervous breakdown. I tried to commit suicide. The particular hospital I was in didn’t allow for Suboxone, so they detoxed me off it by putting me in a Valium haze for about 10 days. Then they sent me straight to the psych ward. I got out as soon as possible, but boy was I relieved to be off the Suboxone. Although I wasn’t done yet: without the aid of Valium, I did not sleep for 18 days. I was very weak, in acute pain, and had tremendous malaise. But, eventually, the PAWS (post acute withdrawal symptoms) attenuated and after about three months, I was okay again.

All I can say is, Suboxone, when taken properly, is quite the miracle drug. I still take it to this day for pain issues, but in very small amounts like .50, one half of a milligram.

My personal opinion is Suboxone should be used for as long as it is helping you. But I also think that nobody needs to be on 32 milligrams. Sixteen milligrams is more than enough to stabilize even the heaviest of habits.

And, if it stops working, it may be time to think of ways to detox off of it. If you’re on high dosages, and been on it a long time, I would say titrate down slowly, but when you’re ready to jump off, if you can, take some time off from work, because there will be plenty of insomnia, and aches and pains to deal with. Plus, depression and ennui will get you. But if you can constantly remind yourself “it’s only temporary,” while exercising and eating right, you’ll get over it. And my advice to anyone getting on this drug is to try and take the least amount possible. Because the more you take, the more brutal the withdrawal will be.

Maria Weeks lived in Japan for 12 years, worked as a translator for Sony in San Diego, then sold Jaguars (though her sales license was revoked due to a DUI). She got sober by going to a great rehab, and is now stocking shelves. She is happily married and thoroughly enjoying recovery!

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