I recently finished Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe. (Spoiler: I loved it.) It touches on the reasons for the opioid epidemic in the United States and how it came to be. The book is extremely powerful, enraging, and for me deeply personal. You see, from about 2005 to 2007, I was taking Percocet, a powerful opioid, on a daily basis.
Now before you call the cops, I was taking these legally. I never bought drugs off the street and my pills came from legal prescriptions. I had 4 surgeries on my lower back and was in a pretty good amount of pain in between surgeries. However, looking back, I had to wonder.
Why the hell did doctors keep giving me Percocet for that long?
Empire of Pain finally answered the question for me. Pharmaceutical companies performed a magic trick where they made doctors believe opioids were not the dangerous pills they thought they were. Once doctors fell for it, they started writing prescriptions. By the time people started asking questions, it was too late. People were dead, or hooked, or already ruined.
Luckily, I was not one of them. I could have been, though. I always prided myself on being drug free and I never did drugs in high school and I certainly never did in the military. Plus, if a doctor gave it to me, then it must be okay.
It can be very easy to blame someone with a drug addiction, especially when you are clean. Why can’t they just stop? Don’t they see what they are doing to themselves and their loved ones?
My experience with Percocet divulged a dirty little secret. The opioids are more than strong little pain pills. They also have the powers of mind control.
See, I never took any of my pills for fun. I took them for the pain. Now, when you take them long enough, you invariably need more. No big deal. Then one day I noticed I was always tired. I was moody. I had put on a lot of weight and I really hated what I saw in the mirror. It was time to stop. It helped that I only had 30 pills left and the doctor was unsure about refilling my prescription. Ultimately, I would leave that bottle with 15 pills left and never touch them.
Weaning yourself off an opioid is not easy. The withdrawal is a test of endurance for both your body and mind. I remember my brain telling me I was in pain and I needed another pill. As I got the drugs out of my system, I began to realize I was not actually hurting. My brain wanted the pills so bad that it made me think I was in tremendous pain.
Later in life, I had other procedures where the doctor prescribed me opioids. After kicking them once, I wasn’t afraid, but I was wary. I would set a deadline for myself to stop taking them and then not go back, pain be damned. The issue never resurfaced for me.
I was never addicted to opioids but I do see how you could be, though. I am a lot less judgmental now.