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My Name Is Bill Gilman, And I'm A Drug Addict

Oct 14, 2014 01:05PM ● By Bill Gilman
(Editor's note: The following column is being published in conjunction with National Substance Abuse/Awareness Week.)

Hello, my name is a Bill Gilman. I'm a drug addict.
I know. I'm not what you expect a drug addict to be, huh? 
I'm 48 years old, happily married with two awesome adults sons.
My addiction is not something in the distant past, some echo of a misspent youth. It's much more recent. Truth be told, it's current.
I was going to publish my story a few years ago, while working for Patch. My bosses forbid me to do it. Too much information, they said. Too personal, they said.
Maybe. But it's also too important to keep locked away in a closet. People are dying.
So this is my story. If it saves a life, or a family, it will be the most valuable story I've written in 26 years.

The searing pain shot at an angle across the left side of my back. I begged for relief. I screamed for relief. I prayed for relief.
I prayed to die.
It was late October, 2009, we were living in Lancaster, and I was in pain the likes of which I had never felt in my life. It felt like a flaming sword was slicing through my muscles from my spine, across the back of my ribs and under my shoulder blade.
There was a visit to my primary care physician and two visits to the emergency room at Leominster Hospital. Over the course of two weeks there were plenty of shrugs and mis-diagnoses. (Muscle spasms? Seriously?)
Temporary relief came only from an IV drip of a heaven-sent drug called Hydromorphone, also known as Dilaudid. That brought the pain from a 10-plus to about a 3 1/2  (on a scale of 1-10).
Finally, a third trip to the ER but this time is was to nearby Clinton Hospital. This time the doctor made a promise -- take these 
Dilaudid pills and if the pain is still unbearable tomorrow I will admit you.
It was. And he did.
He was just the first of a series of wonderful doctors who saved my life. There was Dr. Lazardo in Clinton who recognized the presence of an infection but couldn't ID it. So he called iin infectious disease specialist Dr. Viner from UMass Worcester. In a 15-minute exam he had correctly diagnosed me as having endocarditis. It's an infection that starts in the heart but sets up shop elsewhere. In my case, it made a home around my spine. And as it grew, the pressure on my spine grew, causing the pain.
Next up was Dr. Jason Eck, a spinal surgeon who very nicely but firmly told me that surgery was the only option. Within two weeks, without surgery, the infection could snap my spine, causing paralysis, and the infection could seep into my blood causing sepsis, which would likely kill me.
He made a compelling case.
I was in hospital 11 days, the last eight at UMass Worcester University Campus.
There was a lot of pain and a lot of drugs to handle that pain. 
Dilaudid was a very good friend. How I looked forward to that IV drip.
By the time I had left the hospital I was on 
Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen, better known as Vicodin.
As I was leaving the hospital, I was told that the pain would gradually subside and I wouldn't need the Vicodin. That sounded good because I really hate being medicated.
Unfortunately, they failed to mention the process for no longer taking Vicodin.
You see, a few weeks after coming home I decided the pain had reduced to the point when I could just take tylenol. So I stopped taking the Vicodin ... completely ... cold turkey.
There are some of you reading this that just said "Oh No!!" outloud, because you know what I didn't at the time -- you don't stop taking a powerful opiate like Vicodin cold turkey. You step-down gradually.
Within two days I was in full-blown withdrawal. I was shaking, I was horribly depressed and sobbing. I was nauseous. I ached.
I was addicted.
I had only been on Vicodin three weeks, all prescribed by my doctor, not abusing it or overusing it. But I was addicted. 
Fortunately a kindly nurse practitioner helped me to start taking the Vicodin again and then slowly step down off it over the next 2-3 weeks.
I was OK.
But it needs to be noted that the only reason I was able to get through that and get to the point of calling the nurse practitioner was the help of my wife, my church family and a loving, merciful God.
My lifelines.
Had I been on my own, I have no idea what would have happened.

Now, you might be asking yourself, "Hey wait Bill! That was five years ago. You said your addiction was current."
I'm glad to you brought that up. Vicodin was only my first experience with addiction.
I am presently addicted to a drug called Venlafaxine, more commonly called Effexor.
Again, this is a doctor-prescribed medication. But make no mistake, I am addicted.
Effexor is a powerful anti-depressant. And it works wonderfully.
About three years ago, while working for Patch, I began having severe anxiety attacks and bouts of deep depression brought on by the incredibly high level of stress associated with the job and the company.
I tried very hard to put on a "happy face" and take care of my family. But the anxiety and depression were destroying me from the inside out. I couldn't sleep and I gained 100 pounds. My relationship with my wife was in turmoil, held together only by our faith in Jesu. He is the third strand of the cord that is our marriage.
So I began counseling with a therapist and made an appointment with a psychiatrist. He prescribed the Effexor to be taken daily, as well as an anti-anxiety drug called 
Lorazepam to be taken "as needed."
All it takes is one day of forgetting to take the Effexor and within 24 hours, I'm starting to get light-headed and queasy. I get shaky and start feeling very anxious. 48 hours and the depression sets in. It's called withdrawal.
For now, I need the anti-depressant and the anti-anxiety medication to help me function and to "be me." Some day, I hope not to need these meds. And when that day comes, I will come off them very slowly and under a doctor's watchful care.
But that day is not today and I'm blessed to have a wife that loves me and helps me monitor my meds. My family is incredibly supportive.
But again, what about those folks who are alone?

So what is the point of my story?
It's simple. Drug addicts used to be pigeon-holed as homeless derelicts with track marks on their arms, living in flop houses. Did they have a backstory? Sure, but it was easy to ignore that. Drug addicts were just selfish and stupid. they started using drugs recreationally and got in over their heads because they had no self-control. 
If they wind up committing crimes to support their dirty habits, it's their own fault and they get what they deserve.Right?

The truth is addiction to opiates and anti-depressants is an epidemic in this country. And the cause can be virtually anything. But more and more, what might now be abuse and mis-use of drugs began as very legal and prescribed use of medication for a legitimate purpose.
So how does the problem of addiction get fixed?
Wouldn't it be nice if there was a magic pill for that?
(Sorry, a bit of gallows humor.)
The truth is there is no easy fix. Doctors are being encouraged to prescribe opiates and anti-depressants less frequently. 
Groups such as Tewksbury CARES are teaming with law enforcement and schools to educate the public, both young and old, about the trap of drug abuse and addiction.
This week, there are more than a dozen local programs being offered as part of Substance Abuse/Awareness week, sponsored by the Tewksbury Police Department.
The complete schedule cam be found by clicking here.
Take some time out of your schedule and take in one or two of these programs. It will be well worth your time and it could help to improve the life, or even save the life of someone you love.

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