As told to Tisa Daniels
Executive Director, Leesburg Treatment Services of Pinnacle Treatment Centers
As widely reported in the news media, the challenges of opioid addiction continue to rise as more lethal substances become widely available. In recent days, I learned that a close friend confronted her own challenges. This is her story as told by to me.
I didn’t try heroin until I was 37 years old. I was injured at work and was given Percocet for my back pain. Just 45 minutes after I took my very first Percocet, I felt a “shift” in my brain. A warm feeling came over my body and I felt like “everything would be OK.” All the stress over normal life stuff disappeared. At that time, I worked as an ER nurse and frequently gave opiates to my patients. Usually, they fell asleep, or got nauseated. From the start, my body responded differently.
Four months later, my father became ill and passed away. It was extremely painful for me and I had zero coping skills. After his death, I found all his pain medications. As an ER nurse, I knew that the bioavailability of dilaudid by mouth is 40 percent. When administered intravenously, it’s 100 percent. I was so desperate to get rid of all the feelings surrounding my dad’s death that I Googled “how to turn dilaudid pills into liquid for injection.” The feeling was immediate and indescribable. I took all of my dad’s medication, then I started doctor shopping.
I found a “concierge” doc, which simply meant I paid him $500, and he wrote my prescriptions. This included 180, 4-mg dilaudid pills per month. After two weeks, I ran out. I started “diverting” from my hospital—in other words, stealing. This went on for almost a year. I ultimately took it on my breaks. I truly believed that opiates made me a better nurse. I was happier, friendlier, less stressed.
This all came crashing to a halt in May 2012. A co-worker saw me take dilaudid out of a syringe, put it in my pocket, and replace it with saline. I was met by HR and my nurse manager the following day. My drug screen revealed about eight different medications; I was immediately terminated and reported to the board of nursing.
My doctor fired me. I was unemployed and had no opiates. I found “people who knew people,” and I bought pills from them. The pills ran out and my dealer said he could only get heroin. At that point, I was 30 hours into withdrawal and was dysfunctional. I was sneezing, yawning, sweating, and vomiting … so I bought dope. The very first time I shot myself up I vividly remember thinking “this is a very bad decision, and it’s going to change my life in a terribly negative way.”
It took only eight months for heroin to bring me to my knees. I went through $27,000 in eight months. I depleted our life savings, our honeymoon money, all of my 401K. Our electricity and water got shut off. I lost my nursing license, my entire identity of being a phenomenal ER nurse, and the sense of loss I experienced can’t be described in words.
I was admitted to the program for nurses with substance abuse problems on Nov. 7 and started on Suboxone. I do daily check-ins, random drug screens, daily 12-step meetings, weekly group therapy, outpatient individual therapy, monthly meetings with the board of nursing. I know that “just one more time” will never happen. It won’t be enough, and I will literally lose everything.
Sometimes I look back at the past few years, and feel like I’m looking at someone else’s life. The guilt and shame can’t be described. If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. And if I can get clean, so can anyone.
Very few people know my story. My hope is that by sharing my experience, someone else may have the courage to seek treatment or ask for help. You can’t do it alone, but you can do it.
My friend has successfully completed treatment and hopes to become a nurse again. Know that her story is her own, but there are many like her. To learn more about treatment, go to pinnacletreatment.com.
Tisa Daniels is executive director of Leesburg Treatment Services of Pinnacle Treatment Centers.