Opioids Improved Her Life, But Withdrawals Were Hell

By Kelly Burch 10/30/19

“I was afraid. I knew these drugs were heroin in another form. But after I started, I instantly regretted having waited so long.”

woman experiencing opioid withdrawals

By the time Madora Pennington was 13, she was living with extreme pain. Pennington was born with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a painful genetic disorder that left her suicidal by the time she was 20.

Although she knew about the dangers of powerful prescription opioids, she felt she had no other option that could improve her quality of life.

“Instead of following through with suicide plans, I spoke with my doctor, who prescribed me opiates,” Pennington wrote for The Los Angeles Times. She began taking Vicodin, morphine and a muscle relaxant every night.

“I was afraid. I knew these drugs were heroin in another form,” she wrote. “But after I started, I instantly regretted having waited so long.”

Living With Less Pain

The opioids allowed Pennington to live with much less pain. For the first time, she was able to make progress in physical therapy, because her body had space to heal. Still, she recognized the powerful allure of the drugs. 

“At night, when I took my tiny pills, I was transported to a realm where there are no problems. It felt so fake, so obviously chemically induced, but deeply soothing, nonetheless,” Pennington wrote. 

Her doctor had warned her that she may never be able to quit morphine once she started. However, Pennington told herself that she would do anything she could to get off opioids once her pain and symptoms were under control. When she had the chance, she did just that. 

“Per the medical definition, I was not an addict. I was never drug-seeking, never doctor shopping, never secretly taking more than I said, never taking for emotional relief. I reduced my intake as my Ehlers-Danlos improved,” she wrote.

Time To Taper

Her pharmacist warned her to taper her opioids extremely slowly. Still, Pennington felt unprepared for the physical and emotional symptoms she experienced as she worked to reduce her opioid intake.

“In a life filled with pain, even I never knew such anguish could exist,” she explained. She was experiencing extreme stomach pain, emotional outbursts and jitters. “I stopped titrating and parked my dose where it was, too sick to go lower,” Pennington wrote.

When Philip Seymour Hoffman left rehab and fatally overdosed in 2014, Pennington says she understood. 

A doctor suggested that Pennington stay on low-dose opioids forever, but “that made me furious,” she wrote. “I wanted to be free.”

She decided to start tapering again, as quickly as she could handle. “I stopped trying to get anything done and steeled myself for the unending agony,” she wrote.

In 2014, Pennington was officially free from opioids. She had reached her goal and felt great physically, but writes that “the empty low was indescribable.”

Low-Dose Naltrexone Became A Viable Option

Finally, she was able to connect with a provider who gave her low-dose naltrexone to help ease the residual effects of opioid withdrawal. Now, she shares her experience on her website to highlight both the importance and dangerous power of opioids.

“As someone born genetically destined to suffer, I don’t quibble over hypotheticals,” Pennington writes. “It’s no one’s fault that chronic pain is so difficult to treat. I wish I’d had better advice for opiate recovery. I wish I could have gotten to my life now sooner, where I enjoy getting up every day and doing what I want. But I made it here because of the relief I got from opiates. Yes, it was worth it.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.