By Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, Geriatrician and Director, Canadian Deprescribing Network
When 53-year-old Bert Mitchell almost died in a car accident in 2003, he woke in “excruciating” pain. His doctors put him on powerful opioid drugs.
When did you realize you were addicted?
“Four years later, I was watching a news story about ‘poor man’s heroin.’ I realized that’s what I was on, and decided not to take any more that day. The drugs started to wear off , and I could feel the pain coming back in waves until it was full blown. It was so compelling. I had to relent.”
What did your doctor say?
“He was very angry. I hadn’t researched it, but I was experiencing withdrawal. We developed a program to gradually get off of it. It was horrible. I couldn’t function. So he put me on fentanyl patches. I was so frightened to go off those that it took me six or seven years.”
Why did you decide to go off opioids?
“I felt the drugs affected me worse than the pain. I was drowsy. I almost had several accidents in the car. I was twitching in bed, getting up and walking around at night.”
What do you think clinicians could do better?
“I wish I had known how addictive it can be. A few years later my appendix burst and I told the doctor I didn’t want opioids because I was susceptible to addiction. He prescribed me Percocet®*. When I went to the pharmacist he told me that it was oxycodone. Did my doctor not realize? Are surgeons aware that post- surgery pain relief can get you hooked? Perhaps they don’t know. I’m afraid this is a big part of the problem with opioids. Doctors don’t know enough about the euphoria you can feel and how quickly you can get addicted.”
How are you now?
“Much better. I have my life back. I don’t take anything. I’m sore, but I’d rather be sore than be addicted to opioids. I use physiotherapy, massage therapy and other treatments.”
*Note: Percocet® contains both oxycodone and acetaminophen.
Opioids should never be stopped without the supervision of your doctor or pharmacist. For more information, see this quiz.