Is Recovery Possible for Fentanyl Addiction?

Is Recovery Possible for Fentanyl Addiction

Chris first came to the Coleman Network when he was in his early 20s. He was energetic and hardworking, juggling several successful businesses. Tall, charming, and with a twinkle in his eye, he owned two big trucks and a snowplow attachment. The city’s eternal winter brought him luck- he made bank when the snow was high.

How We Met

Chris never had a degree, although he took a couple of classes at a local college. Sitting still was not his style, but oh was he street smart. With the help of his mother, he purchased more equipment, hired more people, and continued to invest in and grow his business.

We knew Chris through his beautiful wife, the woman he fell in love with and married on an island in the Caribbean; it was like a movie set. They had two sons. His business thrived.

He had the means and the heart, and he much preferred repairing a broken fence or working on an engine with friends to watching Netflix. He was always doing things to help people. 

Chris was addicted to opioids. He started with Oxycontin (and other narcotic pain medication) which was very easy to find and buy at one time. As prescriptions became harder to get, he turned to heroin, and eventually, street fentanyl. 

The Stress of Success

Many patients who get an Accelerated Outpatient Opioid Detox using the Coleman Method enjoy long-term sobriety after a single treatment. In Chris’s case,  it took several attempts before his recovery truly took hold. After relapsing, Chris told me that his success was greatly triggering to him.

“I made over a million dollars that month. I went into ‘react-and-celebrate-mode’, called an old friend I knew, and suddenly I was using again every day.”

The Path to Recovery Becomes Harder

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. Due to this fact, relapses and subsequent detoxes became increasingly difficult for Chris. This partly has to do with the way the brain adapts to the drug. Judith Grisel, the author of Never Enough, explains what opioid addicts experience:

One way to understand the dilemma of the opiate user is to recognize that because there are no free lunches, the benefits that drugs confer will have to be paid back. In principle, moments of superb contentment demand an equal and opposite experience of distress; the benefit of euphoria will create a debt of dysphoria, and trying to avoid this unpleasant state by taking more drugs will just increase what you owe. In practice, the depth and extent of the withdrawal period are in direct proportion to the duration and intensity of the drug bathing the brain. Just as the first exposure is “best,” likewise, the first time someone tries to get clean is the easiest, and easier still if the period of using was of short duration….medicating it will not only put off the misery but strengthen it for next time.”

Chris came to us three times over the years for drug detox. We found that he did best on naltrexone, in two different forms. He started with monthly injections of Vivitrol, a branded naltrexone shot that lasts eight weeks. Later, we gave him implants that last up to eight weeks and he came for these for over two years.

Naltrexone stops physical cravings as it rests on the same receptors that opioids use. This is a great help for people who are trying to re-create a life free from drugs. 

The Effects of the Pandemic

The CDC released some disturbing statistics: Drug overdose deaths in the United States increased 29.4% in 2020 to an estimated 93,331, including 69,710 involving opioids.

We knew alcohol consumption increased dramatically throughout the pandemic, and now our concern about opioid use is also confirmed. Covid not only wreaked havoc by causing illness and death, but the casualties of job loss, fear, extreme stress, homeschooling, and anxiety took their toll as well. 

Although our doors remained open, many of the programs we guide our patients to for follow-up care were doing the best they could through remote programming. This format was a godsend for some patients, but for others, it was just not enough to provide the necessary support. This is why utilizing long-acting naltrexone therapy is so helpful.

Finding Relief With Naltrexone

Naltrexone is an opioid blocker and does not create physical dependence or tolerance. It resides on the opiate receptors, thus blocking these drugs from occupying these receptors. It is an implant that lasts for around two months and will physically block and also eliminate physical cravings. It can become tricky for someone who is using heroin, kratom, fentanyl, or other narcotics (Vicodin, Oxycontin, Roxicet, Dilaudid, Tramadol, Percocet, etc.) and wishes to switch to naltrexone unless the opioids are out of one’s body. The addition of naltrexone can put someone into a state of withdrawal.

What Will Withdrawal Feel Like?

Symptoms Of Opioid Withdrawal

From Judith Grisel, Never Enough

  • Panting and yawning
  • Pain
  • Irritability and dysphoria
  • Restlessness and insomnia
  • Fearfulness and hostility
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Pupil Dilation
  • Increased core temperature
  • Tearing and runny nose
  • Chilliness and goosebumps

Compassionate Treatment

For over twenty-five years, this is what the Coleman Network has specialized in. We work with our patients and their loved ones to carefully, replace taking opioids with naltrexone. After a detox the opioids have been removed and the receptors are now loaded with naltrexone. 

Our program provides people with a total of three implants, spanning six months of protection from using opioids. And while this is an effective blockade, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of coupling this treatment with counseling and the support of others who understand the unique challenges people with physical dependence on opioids face.

Our case management services at the Coleman Network for Addiction Medicine guide patients to find the right fit for their particular situation. Chris never felt like he needed the counseling piece, and I am still reeling from the call I received late last week from his wife, Gretchen.  In a quiet, faltering voice she thanked us for all we had done for her husband over the many years of working together and the added years of quality time they’d had together.  Sadly, last month Chris was found dead in the driver’s seat of his Ford with a needle in his arm.

No one can guarantee that a loved one won’t have a fatal relapse, but I can assure you that this story is the exception. What we can do is offer effective, compassionate treatment and a realistic opportunity for a person ready to stop using opioids and rebuild the pieces of their life destroyed by their addiction. Please call our caring folks at 804-294-2212 and we can give you more details about how we can help you.

Joan Shepherd, FNP

Recovery Starts With Finding The Right Detox Option For You.

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