It is totally possible to stop using fentanyl and get into recovery. It is even simple, although it may not be easy. In my many years as a practitioner in the field of Substance Use Disorders (SUD), I have savored memorable and powerful conversations with thousands of patients about their experiences in recovery. There are massive advantages to being off fentanyl and other opioids—from not being tied to the source of the medication–whether legal or not, no anxiety about misplacing prescriptions, no stress about coordinating travel dates with picking up medicine, libido getting on track again…and many more. But much of what brightens my days at the Coleman Network for Addiction Medicine are the quiet wins shared by our patients.
Jonathan had our eyes welling up with his story about how on payday there were over a dozen places he could buy drugs on his way home from work. Visiting our office for his fourth naltrexone implant and starting his seventh month of sobriety, Jonathan shared that on paydays now, his 3 children wait for him to get home, looking for their allowance, which he can share with them for the first time in many years.
Alex’s holiday story is unforgettable. After an outpatient opioid detox using the Coleman Method, he had several months of time free from oxycodone. Alex still had a number of friends who were still regularly using opioids. One of them had a four-year-old son. When Alex dropped by on Christmas Eve, he saw that Santa wasn’t bringing anything to this young boy—all the money was going into his dad’s arm. Alex went to a 24-hour drugstore and bought some toys along with small plastic Christmas tree. My heart was in my throat when he told me he even wrapped the presents and put them in the living room. (True story. Not a Hallmark channel broadcast.)
Colin wrestled mightily with his drug use. With a college degree and plenty of family support, he still found it hard to stay away from these medications. He worked off-and-on at unfulfilling jobs until he threw in the towel and moved in with his parents. No job and no hobbies, but able to get a daily fix. He wished for a strong relationship and fulfilling career.
Jump forward to eighteen months of time away from drugs. At his last appointment for a naltrexone implant, we asked him what was new. Colin had a quick answer: with a good job, way more women were ‘swiping right’ on his dating app. Women were skeptical of unemployed men. Just another plus for getting into recovery.
Alignment of Body and Spirit
Lindsay owns a fast-growing delivery company in Tennessee. After a physician prescribed pain medicine for a back condition for many years, she started adding on some pills she bought on the street. She shared with me how this past Christmas morning, she was thrilled to wake up with the realization that her first thought was no longer “I need my pills.” She was able to be fully present for her family.
Anthony is a country boy. While he can be shy, once he gets on a roll, he has our whole team in stitches. After 2 years of sobriety from fentanyl and heroin, I inquired about the money he was no longer spending on drugs. “I knew exactly much I was spending on drugs,” he says, “But I didn’t think about what I wasn’t doing for my family.” Recently, he bought several cows, a new truck, and a horse for his daughter, using money that earlier would have been spent on his addiction.
How Do You Get Off and Stay Off Heroin or Fentanyl?
When someone takes fentanyl (or other opioids such as Roxicet®, hydrocodone, Percocet®, Vicodin®, oxycodone, tramadol, methadone, or buprenorphine) long enough, their body becomes physically dependent and acquires a tolerance for it. ‘Tolerance’ means needing increased doses to achieve the same effect.
Because of this, I’m not surprised when someone calls for help getting off pain medicine and says that they are taking far more than the dose prescribed by their practitioner. Over the years we have helped patients get off of doses as high as 800mg a day—and even higher if the self-reports are accurate.
Almost universally, our patients who have been purchasing medication from places other than their local pharmacy are actually buying products laced with illegal fentanyl. When we discuss this during our screening process, many people believe that this is inaccurate, because they know they have a reliable supplier. They are often shocked to find that their urine tests are positive for fentanyl.
For anyone feeling trapped and ashamed by this behavior, I want to reassure you how frequently people find themselves in this situation. You are not alone. The majority of our patients are hard-working professionals with loving families. Physical dependence is an equal opportunity offender, and any of us can develop a tolerance to these substances. Feeling ashamed and unwilling to share this truth with loved ones is often the largest deterrent for seeking help with opioid withdrawal.
And getting help is crucial because opioid withdrawal can be an excruciating experience.
If you or a loved one are considering how life might be without opiates, the Coleman Network for Addiction Medicine may have some answers for you. Our Accelerated Opioid Detoxes are customized to your situation, taking into account the type and dosage of opioids you have been using, how long you have been on it, and other medical conditions you might have.
Getting off opioids using the Coleman Method is a really safe process, so our program is completely outpatient, and your support person can stay by your side through the entire experience. While I have heard from other patients who have experienced less-than-satisfactory detox experiences in the past, our program provides sufficient comfort medications to make this as tolerable and comfortable as possible.
There are many clear benefits from getting off opioids. I’d love to add your victory story to our growing collection. Please call us with your questions at 877-773-3869.
Joan R. Shepherd, FNP