Many recovering opiate users claim that they would not be alive for today if not for Suboxone. But numerous detractors make it difficult to reach an objective conclusion. If there is one thing that medication-assisted therapy (MAT) and step-based programs have in common, it’s that you can likely find as many sources espousing their usefulness as you can find claiming that they do not work. With such a confusing atmosphere surrounding the debate, how is one to reach an objective conclusion? Studies based on numerical data often produce conflicting results, which only serves to muddy the waters even further.
This is why anecdotal evidence sometimes acts as the best kind. We could lecture you day in and day out about the various benefits or drawbacks of MAT. But at the end of the day, there would be contrasting articles on other sites that might leave you scratching your head. So instead of throwing around a lot of science and medical jargon, we’d like to present you with some experiences. These three stories originate from an article by The Fix. Each of them tells of a different experience with Suboxone. We will also include some of our own thoughts after each story.
No one can tell you whether or not Suboxone will work for you. Likewise, no one can force it upon you. It is up for each recovering addict to decide for themselves whether or not they feel MAT is worth trying. If you have ever looked into it, then you may already know quite a bit about how it works. Hopefully, these stories will help you to fill in some of the blanks between the science and the actual recovery experience. If you have any questions regarding the manner in which detox and recovery are actually treated at Amethyst, feel free to contact us at your convenience.
Mike’s Experience with Suboxone
The first story is told by Mike, a 63-year-old man from Vermont. He was arrested in 2002 when it was discovered that his life was much more than it seemed. During the day, he made good money from his executive job at a nice bank. At night, he accrued extra funds by dealing heroin. After his arrest, it took four days for him to recover from his physical withdrawal. It was a full week before he felt anything resembling normalcy. Once he felt better, they transferred him to prison where he stayed for about eighteen months.
He performed as a jailhouse lawyer while in prison and decided to finish his degree at Cornell University after release. During school, however, he relapsed and continued using on and off for another four years. Eventually, he tried to sell heroin to an undercover police officer. He attended a drug court afterward, where he learned a lot about his addiction. In his words:
“You think you have choices but you don’t. You’re in a self-built prison. I told myself, ‘I could stop tomorrow’ [but] opiates are so different from other drugs; the purpose isn’t to get high anymore, it’s to be un-sick. The minute you stop, within 24 hours, you’re in withdrawal. You can’t go to work and you can’t get out of bed.”
Mike eventually tried Suboxone at a clinic in Vermont. At the time, Suboxone was still in a testing phase and had not been made legal. He came to believe that it was a bona fide answer to his prayers. A year ago, when he relapsed after being prescribed opioid medications for a knee injury, he went back on Suboxone a second time. He says that he will keep using it for a time, but he would like to eventually stay sober on his own. He does not know if his future holds another relapse. However, he remains confident that he can stay sober for today. And according to many in recovery, today is the only day that matters.
Those who criticize Suboxone might use Mike as an example. They’d point to his relapse as proof that Suboxone doesn’t work. But what is more important? The fact that he relapsed, or the fact that he continued seeking recovery afterward? This is an important question, and one that some critical studies seem to ignore. When we see relapse rates for MAT or step-based programs, we are rarely told whether the figures reflect people who relapsed for good or people who returned to recovery. Relapse rates are not unimportant, but we should consider people like Mike before taking such numbers at face value.
Chuck’s Experience with Suboxone
The Fix next spoke to Chuck, who they met in a facility for male AIDS sufferers. Much like Mike, Chuck also spent some time behind bars. More than twenty times, by his own count. These arrests started in 1989, when addiction treatment was not common in correctional facilities. Chuck speaks of his experience in his own words:
“I had a hard time and it was messy. I was curled up around the toilet and people were standing over me urinating. I wasn’t regarded as somebody worth anything.”
Since this was a different time, Chuck was treated quite differently. While we often advocate treatment instead of prison, Chuck was not given such a choice. The courts did not suggest rehab. They did not provide him with treatment opportunities. When he was first released, he went back to his old lifestyle. The cycle continued on and on. He committed worse and worse crimes, and his prison experiences became worse as well.
“Yeah, and I did some state time for armed robbery, that was five years for a violent felony. Inside, I got jumped; I fought. Once, waiting in line for the phone I seen this guy who got stabbed. It was a really traumatic experience because it wasn’t like the movies. He was hit in the neck and it must’ve hit a main artery because the blood shot out five feet.”
Chuck eventually joined a gang for the sake of protection. After prison, he entered a relationship. He says that he became codependent, experiencing addiction from the other side. After it was discovered that he had AIDS, the relationship ended. As far as Suboxone is concerned, we must once again allow him to speak in his own words.
“I tried it once. I had an appointment for today but I didn’t go because I don’t have any money to pay for it.”
Chuck concluded his interview with The Fix by voicing intention to use again. Would he have stayed sober if he had enough money to afford treatment? No one can say. In what may be deep denial, he states that drugs are not his problem. He expressed the belief that he is hopeless. Certainly, many addicts have felt the same way. But giving into these feelings often results in tragedy.
Julie’s Experience with Suboxone
The last story related by The Fix is that of Julie. Unlike Mike or Chuck, she received Suboxone in jail. She believes that Suboxone is largely only useful when used for a long time, but she also claims that it helped her in the short term.
“I wasn’t consumed every minute thinking about how I could get more [opiates]. I wasn’t writhing in pain. I wasn’t try to…get some smuggled in…. It gave me the opportunity to think about whether [heroin] was something I wanted to be doing at all.”
In other words, Suboxone helped her through withdrawal. Not only did it apparently help with her physical symptoms, but her mental and emotional ones as well. As someone who struggled with drugs for a long time, she needed this. She tried other drugs, but heroin was the one that took. She suffered depression and eating disorders. She started using at 17 and nearly committed suicide by heroin overdose. She even leapt from a bridge at one point. She doesn’t look down on twelve-step programs, but she had problems with the meetings available in prison.
Since she has gotten out, Julie has been sober for eleven years. Much like Chuck, she has experienced addiction from both sides. She dated an addict and learned that her own behavior during addiction shared many similarities with that of this man. She did not want to be an addict after that. She agrees with many principles of twelve-step meetings to this day, but Suboxone is what she credits for helping her through withdrawal. She stands by her use of it, and it appears to have helped her far more than it helped anyone else appearing in these stories.
In the end, all we can conclude from Julie’s story is that Suboxone serves a potential purpose when in withdrawal. Today, Julie appears to be a level-headed person who recognizes that both MAT and twelve-step meetings have various benefits. All she knows for certain is that her life has become better since she quit heroin. Other recovering heroin users often stay the same. Users whose lives have been affected by heroin must never give up. Regardless of how we go about it, recovery is possible if we accept help.