ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - As more turn to the black market to manage opioid dependence or addiction, an overarching question remains: Where can they turn for help?
As doctors cut prescription pain patients off of opioid pain pills, specialists say it is important to make the distinction between opioid dependence and opioid addiction.
Opioid dependence is discovered when patients are suddenly cut off from their prescription opioids and, as a result, suffer from withdrawal syndrome. Addiction is a destructive and compulsive use of the drugs.
Both dependence and addiction can turn people to buy prescription pills off the street or on the black market where quality control is completely absent and lethal fillers, like fentanyl, may be present.
Local addiction treatment therapists tell Fox 9 there is not one study that has ever shown abstinence-based treatment out performs treatment with opioid agonist medication.
In fact, when somebody leaves an abstinence-based treatment or becomes withdrawn from all of their opioids, they are at extreme risk of overdose in the first three to four weeks upon discharge, which is often when patients die.
Yet the story of Tonka Bay, Minn. welterweight boxer Corey Pulling provides realistic hope.
“I didn’t want my girlfriend at the time to wake up to a dead boyfriend,” the 27-year-old Baltimore, Md. native told Fox 9.
Just a few years ago, Corey’s life was nothing short of scary.
“Before I can even get caffeine, which is [as] essential to my existence as many Americans, I would take three Vicodin right away,” he recounted.
The grip of the prescription painkiller took Corey by surprise, especially as an athlete.
“It led to injuries to my back and hands and I was prescribed Vicodin,” Corey said.
His prescription was issued to him in 2009.
“Each year, I had to take a little more of it to get through my day to the point where I was completely and utterly addicted to it from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep,” he told Fox 9.
Over the course of six years, Corey’s dependence on Vicodin spiraled out of control.
“12 Vicodin a day, no problem, and was a fully functioning 50 hours a week guy,” he said.
Corey’s dependence then grew into dangerous desperation when his legitimate supply ran out.
“That definitely happened where I bought them, some, on the street,” he said.
Corey knew it was time to make a drastic change and initially sought abstinence-based treatment.
“They put me in more Alcoholics Anonymous classes than Narcotics Anonymous classes and it’s because their population was predominantly alcoholics and here I am I’m addicted to Vicodin something very specific and they said well you’ll just fit with this program but it didn’t work for me,” Corey said.
Two years ago, Corey was led to Alltyr Treatment Clinic in St. Paul.
“He’s just done remarkably well,” Ian McLoone, Alltyr’s Lead Therapist, told Fox 9.
McLoone says at Alltyr patients are involved in a comprehensive discussion of the range of options available to them.
During the orientation discussion, patients are also given the pros and cons of each option. Practitioners then empower patients by allowing room for informed consent.
Alltyr’s approach is to first inform and then empower their patients.
“For some folks the best option is going to be long-term maintenance on opioid agonist therapy, for other folks it might be something different,” McLoone said.
Each patient is then assigned a primary therapist and a primary physician.
The treatment clinic offers evidence-based, scientifically proven treatment options, including open-ended maintenance on opioid agonist medication, like Suboxone, which provides relief from withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.
“There’s no getting high with it or anything like that, so it really just fills kind of a gap and lets you heal naturally with the chemicals in your brain,” Corey said.
Corey says the treatment frees him immensely. It has turned him from someone who used to fear he might not wake up alive to someone who is a living example of hope.
“I was just dying every day,” Corey said. “Now I’m able to see tomorrow as a definite as much as anyone can hope for anyway.”
If you or a loved one has become physically dependent or addicted to any drug, not just opioids, and you want to learn more about Allytr’s treatment options visit alltyr.com.