Woman detoxing from 26 years of prescribed painkillers

Posted at 10:27 PM, Feb 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-07 06:33:31-05

TULSA -- A Tulsa woman said she is addicted to painkillers that she was prescribed. 

"I'm just in bad shape," she said. "I'm a senior citizen addicted to pain pills. What kind of life is that?" 

She asked us to conceal her identity. The woman was two days into detoxing from 26 years worth of opioid use. 

She said all the painkillers she took were prescribed to her by different doctors over the years for various injuries and surgeries. 

"I wish they would have said to me, 'These pain medicines you took after surgery, that's fine. You can take those for a while but they are really only good for seven to ten days. Anything after that you can become addicted.'"

The woman said she took them as directed, never asked for refills early, never took more than she was supposed to or doctor shopped. 

As the years went on and she was diagnosed with other illnesses, her prescriptions got stronger. She became immune to the painkillers she was on. She said her doctors told her she needed more potent medication. 

"I didn't even know to ask for anything else," she said. "Can I have some physical therapy? What are the other choices?' You always trust your doctors when you go to them to know what's best for your health."

As her pain regimen strengthened, the effects on her body intensified, so she was prescribed more pills to mask those symptoms. 

Since she has been on opioids, the woman said she has gained more than 70 pounds, her teeth have turned brown and started breaking off and she lost her sense of taste. Those are just a few of the side effects.

She was brought to tears talking about the negative effects it has had on her relationships with friends and family. The woman said they told her she "changed" and they would be there for her when she got off the pills. 

Several times during our interview, the woman admitted to being an addict, which is something she is embarrassed about. 

Pain management doctor, Dr. Andrew Revelis, who does not treat the patient we spoke to, said there is a difference between addiction and tolerance. 

"When you are addicted, you behave in ways like you said asking for early refills buying them off the streets," Dr. Revelis said. "You are craving it. That's a different thing."

While the patient we spoke with does not obtain her pills illegally, she said the pain is unbearable when she is not on them and up until now was not willing to make the change. 

Dr. Revelis deals with people who have chronic pain, meaning it lasts longer than six months. He said he does not rely only on painkillers to treat it. He incorporates injection therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, meditation, biofeedback and more. 

 "What we don't want to do is over correct it to the point where the pendulum swings so far back the other way now that legitimate people, my grandmother, your grandmother, your sister, other people with legitimate pain that need it to maintain a quality of life don't get left behind," Dr Revelis said. 

When Dr. Revelis does put patients on painkillers, he informs them the risks involved with taking the medication. He even makes them sign a contract saying they are going to take them as directed. 

"Some of the research now shows that higher and higher doses aren't necessarily more effective in treating people's pain," Dr. Revelis said. "Certainly where we can decrease the medication, we do." 

The detox has not been easy for the woman. While we spoke to her, she was sweating, shaking and experiencing terrible cramps in her feet. She even got boils on her legs that her doctor said is poison from the opioids leaving her body.

"They should never prescribe this medicine to anybody unless they tell them what they're going to go through when you get off of them," the woman said crying. "It's cruel. That's what it is. It's cruel. I don't want to be like this." 

The woman said she never would have started the long term use of opioids if she new years later she would be in this position. She said hre doctor did not tell her and she regrets not asking more questions. 

"Life is going to be really good once I get off these pills and that's what I tell myself," the woman said. "Life is going to be good again once all of this is out of [my] system. I'm just doing a countdown." 

In the last few weeks, the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse released several recommendations for changes to state laws. They include mandating electronic prescriptions, fully funding drug courts and encouraging law enforcement to track where overdoses are happening so they can direct resources to the hot spots. 

The commission also suggests taxing opioid manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors and using the money to fund opioid addiction treatment. 

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