I lost someone I love to drug addiction. It started with an addiction to prescription pain meds. He injured his ankle years ago and struggled with the pain. I figured out he was an addict after I had surgery to repair my broken ankle. He asked me what medication I was given and I told him “oxycodone”. At the time, I was upset because my surgeon insisted I also take my tramadol because stopping it suddenly could cause a seizure. I didn’t like taking both medications and only took one tramadol a day. When he found out that I also had tramadol he asked me for some. He explained that his new insurance didn’t start until the following week (Jan 1) and he had to wait to get in to his new doctor. I believed him. I knew he was in pain. I gave six tramadol to hold him over until his appointment. That was the only time I gave him anything. The requests for tramadol kept coming for long time. He also found out my dog took tramadol and he always came to visit when I was at my parents. I would see him looking in the dog’s bag. I told him he wasn’t getting any more tramadol from me, but the texts still came. I did confront him and got a long, windy story about his insurance and doctors again….but it didn’t make sense. I told him he needed to get himself some help. I told his siblings that he had been asking me. They didn’t seem surprised. I warned my parents to hide my dad’s pain meds when he was visiting….and they did each time he stopped by. All of this happened before the opioid epidemic became a big news story.
A few years later, he called me late one night. I figured he was calling again to ask for more tramadol and I almost didn’t answer. I thought about it and realized he never called me, he always sent a text, so I answered the call. It was his coworker calling in a panic that he took a seizure at work. They thought I was his sister because of our last name and called me. I knew at that moment he overdosed. I called his family and told them what they needed to know to get to him. I also told them that he was repeatedly asking me for tramadol for years and I was turning him down. Turns out, he did OD on tramadol that time. The funny thing is that I had no idea you could get high from tramadol. I take the drug to help me function. My morning pain is so severe that dressing is complicated. I hate taking pain meds, so I often don’t take the three a day as prescribed. I take 1 or 2 typically, and only do 3 a day if my pain is so severe from a flare that I can’t function otherwise. Never once have I felt high. Turns out he was taking 6 or more a day. I get nervous taking my prescribed 3 a day. I don’t know why he became addicted and abused the same drug I have taken safely for 18 years. I just can’t wrap my mind around it.
After his overdose, I got repeated messages from him that I needed to stop taking that “stuff” (tramadol) because it’s so addictive and not good for me. I had to laugh. Suddenly, I was the one with a problem. He would even insinuate that I needed to get help to get off of it. I ignored his pestering and negative comments. I worried what he was saying to others, but overall, I just hoped he got himself clean.
Two months ago, he came to see me. It was a nice visit. I noticed his conversation was all over the place and he was talking really fast. I honestly didn’t know if he was clean or not. He helped me pack my car and he stopped me to tell me he hadn’t taken pills in over 2 years. I told him how proud I was of him and I hoped he was doing well. He told me he was good. He asked if I still took tramadol. I told him yes but that I don’t abuse it. He didn’t say anything else. I truly hoped he was good, but I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know if he ever got himself help or not. I was so hopeful he had turned the corner and was sober.
Two days ago he overdosed on heroin and fentanyl.
In the chronic illness community, many of us live in pain. The opioid crisis has punished those who need pain medication to improve their quality of life by making it very hard to get what they need. It’s unfair. There is a difference between someone who takes pain medication to live and someone who abuses it. I don’t know what the solution is to stop this crisis, but making chronically ill people suffer isn’t the right way to go. There is a difference between someone who hurts their back and is in pain versus someone who has a life long disease. We need a distinction in treatment. We need services like physical and occupational therapies to be covered by insurance. They (insurance companies) created this crisis along with the pharmaceutical companies by pushing these drugs and rejecting auxiliary treatments that take longer to cover when someone is healing from an injury.
All I know is that my heart aches that he lost this battle. I was shocked but not surprised when I got the call. I feared this for over 6 years but really hoped he would clean himself up. I know his family feared he was back to using recently and he cut many off when they called him on it. It’s a shame. My heart aches for them. His family tried so very hard to help him. We all knew he was a good person who would do anything for you if you asked. I hope he knew how loved he was by his family. I hope he knew how much I loved him, too. Goodbye cousin. I’ll see you on the other side.