Brian was able to get opioids in clinics and emergency departments all across the city. He felt ridiculed and taken advantaged of by many providers, but he also remembers the one doctor’s surprising, compassionate response to his drug request.
“It all started when I was 17. I had never touched drugs. I was the kid who was not going to do drugs. Drugs are bad. I thought ecstasy would kill me. That was the drug at the time. Everyone was doing ecstasy. I was going to raves. I loved raves. I was the sober raver. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke weed. But I was still interested in learning about drugs. I was researching online and there was all this oxy talk.”
My parents had some Tylenol 3 with codeine in their cupboard. I thought, ‘Codeine, that sounds like oxycodone.’ So I took some. They were nice.
“I have Asperger’s. Some people with Asperger’s are so withdrawn that they don’t pick up on social cues. I wanted social interaction but, even though I speak English, it was as if there was a hidden language.”
“I’d wake up in the morning and take two or three Tylenol 3s and go to high school. I told the teacher in my first class, ‘I don’t need this to graduate. Just let me nod off in class and not participate. Just don’t get me in trouble.’ And he agreed. So, I’d nod off. It was just this carefree feeling. When the codeine started to wear off I’d get kind of angry, cranky. Then it wore off totally and I was fine until the next day.”
“It got to the point where I was like, ‘There must be something better than codeine.’ I went to a doctor at a walk-in clinic and lied. I said I had pain associated with a joint injury and the Tylenol 3 was just not working. So he gave me Talwin. I was quite disappointed. I quickly went back and said ‘You know what? This is not working for my pain.’ In a way I was lying, because there was no pain. But in a way I wasn’t.”
Opioids take away emotional and physical pain. That’s what people don’t get.
“So he gave me Percocets. I knew they were oxycodone and Tylenol. I thought, ‘Okay, I am almost there!’ I took one Percocet and was really disappointed. I took two the next day and was still disappointed. I took three the following day and that’s when it all started. I don’t know how opioids work on an average brain but for me, it made everything stop, it made everything quiet.”
“I did cold water extraction. It’s on a website – the website taught me everything. Tylenol is not water soluble but oxycodone is. The Tylenol will kill you faster than the opioid because it damages the liver. So, what you do is you crush the Percocet, mix it with cold water and put it in a coffee filter. The opioid is water soluble and it will drip out. The Tylenol clumps up and then you drink the water with the opioid.”
“My doctor eventually cut me off. He was like, ‘You can’t be in that much pain.’ So then I went to another clinic, and another clinic. But they don’t give you that much. I was starting to get desperate because I was going through withdrawal. I was dope sick.”
“I was like, ‘Okay, I guess I’ve got to step up my game.’ I was not going to go rob someone in the street for money, although I might have gotten there. I wouldn’t put it past me. And I don’t think what I did was any better, because at least someone who robs you for money to buy drugs is pretty honest. I manipulated the health system, but then the health system manipulated me, right? I mean look at this bullshit of allowing generic OxyContin on the market.”
“I hardly ever paid for opioids. I had a map of the city and I divided it up into quadrants, and I got drugs from clinics and emergency departments.”
“This one doctor put me on OxyContin. He said it was less addicting and that the Tylenol in the Percocet was going to hurt my liver. I thought, ‘Let me just chew it and see if it works fast.’ Sure enough it worked.”
“At one pain management clinic, the doctor there didn’t ask me one question about psychological trauma, physical trauma, sexual abuse, emotional abuse. He said, ‘He looks like a really good kid, he comes from a good family.’ What does that mean, because I am white?! He didn’t even ask me about my family. He couldn’t prescribe narcotics, so he gave me a letter that said I needed opioids, and he recommended 40mg. I had been getting 10mg to 20mg, but I told him I was still having pain, so he just increased it, no questions asked. I took that letter to every ER in the city and to walk-in clinics. In my opinion, that doctor purposely took advantage of people.”
“There was this one doctor in the ER who said ‘You’re addicted.’ And I am like, ‘No, I am not.’ I didn’t really believe it myself yet. He gave me enough Oxy to take away the withdrawal. And he’s like, ‘Listen, you keep denying it. I can’t force you.’ He gave me an envelope with a pamphlet in it. He said, ‘If you come back again, you’re going to be on this list and we will phone the police.’ I didn’t know I was doing anything illegal.”
I figured, ‘You’re the trained ones. You’re stupid enough to give me the drugs. You took your oath, not me.’
“Inside the envelope was a prescription for 30 Oxys, because he didn’t want me to be dope sick, getting drugs illegally in Regent Park. But he made it clear that if I came back, this would never happen again. And I never went back. That was one of the most compassionate interactions I have had with an emergency room doctor.”
“I went on methadone but I wasn’t ready to quit drugs. Methadone is an aide. Counselling and psychotherapy need to be offered as well. But none of them were. I still went to doctors who were giving me stronger opioids, like hydromorphone. And then I went to buying heroin from the street.”
“The first time injecting, a drug dealer injected me in the washroom at McDonalds. Afterwards, I heard him rinsing the water through the needle, and I am like, ‘Why are you doing that if it’s a new needle?’ He says, ‘I am OCD and I really wash the plunger well.'”
“I went to an emergency department and said, ‘Listen, this is the first time I injected. I know there’s something like a needle stick protocol that can stop you from getting HIV.’ I was scared shitless. Oh my God, did they treat me like hell! First of all they did a urine test, which was fine. I could hear the nurse outside literally saying, ‘What the fuck is wrong with kids nowadays?’ She was holding up the urine test. She goes, ‘He is positive for everything except weed. Doesn’t anyone smoke grass anymore?’ Then the doctor came in and told me that he wasn’t going to waste the medication on me. That I probably wouldn’t take it anyways because even real people who take it can’t tolerate it. (I didn’t know what ‘real people’ meant – I guess he meant his colleagues who are superior because they have MDs and deserve life.) It produces a lot of nausea and stuff. He said people like me weren’t going to take it and I was going to keep injecting anyways. Then I heard him say, not to me but to the nurse, ‘You know, I just have no tolerance for IV drug users.'”
“I don’t wish addiction upon anyone, but at that point I was like, ‘I hope your son is an addict one day.’ That was my worst experience with health care.”
“I eventually got off opioids with the help of Suboxone and a number of doctors and counselors. I went back to school. I graduated with two diplomas. One in addiction studies, one in counselling skills. Now, I work as a counsellor.”
I don’t believe that my addiction was a disease. My generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, ADHD – those are diseases. The addiction is how I coped.
“I hope my story gets through to people in health care, but I feel like stories like mine aren’t making a difference. The opioid epidemic shows no sign of stopping. The numbers suggest at least three people a day die from prescription opioids in this country.”