Mean Streak

I guess I do get irritable sometimes…  but I’m getting better at controlling my anger as I get older.  One cool thing about a blog is that I can go back and see what I wrote years ago.  In this case, I was looking for a post about telling the difference  between opioid toxicity (from taking too much) versus opioid withdrawal. In that post I suggested looking at the size of the pupils.  The name of the post, in case anyone is interested, is called ‘abres los ojos’— the name of an old Penelope Cruz movie and spanish for ‘open your eyes.’ 

Penelope Cruz sounds very cool, by the way, when she whispers ‘abres los ojos…’ as you can hear at the beginning of the movie trailer.  The movie was remade and called ‘Vanilla Sky’– again with Penelope Cruz, but this time with her speaking in English.
Am I the only one who cares about this stuff?!
The post BEFORE that one was from a time– 2009– when people often wrote to tell me how misguided I was for recommeding buprenoprhine.  Those comments, at a time when so many young people were dying from overdose, would really get to me.  I’ll share the exchange, for old time’s sake.  For people who enjoyed my older, feisty posts, they are still out there– you just need to keep hitting the ‘earlier posts’ button!
The post:
This guy doesn’t like Suboxone– or the horse it rode in on.  He has been trying to write angry posts under my youtube videos, but I have been blocking them– His feelings about Suboxone popped up on one of the health sites out there this morning, catching my attention through ‘Google alerts’ for Suboxone.  It must be the same guy, because the complaints are the same, the language is the same, and in both cases the screen names are related to frogs(!).  I will go ahead and post his comments, and then my response, so that he can relax– knowing that he has done his part in the epic struggle over Suboxone.
Ive looked all over the internet and still have not found more then 5 people who have quit suboxone like i have. I took it for 12 months tapered down to 2 mg and quit 5 days ago..Basicly i am writing this due to the fact that i am really pissed at the fraud i feel is being commited by the drug maker of suboxone. I was taking 15 10 mg a day of percocet and 10 mg a day of norco a day b4 i got on sub. Anyways the reason i am so pissed is that these last 5 days have been the worse 5 days ive ever had.My Dr says oh youll just feel little tired for a few days is all.. ya right… 5 days of not being able to move,anxiety,depression you name it.. and no i am not crazy i took pills for shoulder injury so i have an idea where these feelings come from and its the good ole subs that all these Drs are making a fortune off. You must remember that out of all My drs patients i am like the only one whos quit totaly and can actually sit here and tell you what its like.. Its terrible and after considerable thought i think people need to know this sub is just another opiate and what gets me is the withdrawls are even worse then reg opiates. I CLOSE WITH ONE LAST COMMENT: ITS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY WHEN IT COMES TO SUBS: Think twice before some slick talking Dr wants you on it.. its far from a magic pill. Just ask the few of us out of 1000000,0000 people who quit the phoney stuff.
There is no magic pill for addiction to pain pills and if you think sub is then think again..One last thing, try and ****** suboxone withdrawls and guess what youll find??? first 50 sites pop up are paid for by the drug maker of sub and you have to dig to find real facts from patients with experience.. Drug maker pays big bucks to keep all the info ” positive” on subs… They are no dam different then the crooks on wal-street !
My Response:
Before my answer, a quick comment–  I do like the ‘crooks on wal-street’ remark;  I haven’t seen that ‘play on trademark words’ before.  I am assuming that he was making a joke–  he had to be, right?
OK, here is my response.  As usual it is a bit ‘snotty’– but you have to remember that I get this garbage all the time, and it gets old:
I am sorry to be the one to break this to you, but you are an opiate addict. Moreover, you will always be an opiate addict; hopefully you will be an addict ‘in remission’. The brain pathways that make up ‘addiction’ are laid down in a manner that involves memory processes; becoming a ‘non-addict’ would be like forgetting how to ride a bike. It cannot happen. Again, you can be in remission, but with opiates, that is very difficult– and unfortunately very uncommon.
Many people write about how they used will power or vitamins or some other silly technique to quit opiates– once they have gone over 5 or 10 years, I am interested in listening to them. It is easy to quit using for a year– it is another thing entirely to quit using for 10 years. I got clean in 1993 and felt pretty proud of myself… I quit through AA and NA, not Suboxone. I worked with opiates the whole time, giving patients IV fentanyl, morphine, demerol, etc in the operating room… but in 2000, thanks to a little market in the Bahamas that sold codeine over the counter, I relapsed. I ended up losing almost everything, including my career, all my money, a vacation cottage, my medical license… ****** ‘mens health’ and ‘the junkie in the OR’ and you will read my story.
There is no ‘fraud’, no ‘slick doctors’. There are doctors trying to help, and some work harder than others to keep people on track. We now know that Suboxone is best thought of as a long-term treatment, just like most other illnesses; we treat diabetes, hypertension, asthma, etc with long-term agents; if you stop your blood pressure meds abruptly you will have ‘rebound hypertension’ that can be very dangerous… Suboxone is similar to any other treatment. The thing is, pharmacy companies never used to care about addiction; the money is in treating other illnesses– just watch the commercials on TV! The money has been in viagra-type drugs! Suboxone is the first generation of opiate-dependence medications; the next wave will have fewer side effects, and so on. That is what happens with every disease. I am glad addiction finally has the attention of pharmaceutical companies. As for ‘slick docs’, there are many easier ways to make a buck in medicine! I am at the ‘cap’ of patients; the money I make treating patients with Suboxone is a tiny fraction of what I made as an anesthesiologist; I could drop the Suboxone practice tomorrow and take one of the 30 jobs in my area frantically looking for psychiatrists and make as much or more money. Yes, there probably are some ‘bad docs’ out there– there are ‘bad everythings’. But a bad doc will make a lot more money treating ‘pain’ using oxycodone than treating addiction with Suboxone! For one thing, there is no cap on pain patients! And when a doc wants to prescribe Suboxone, he/she can have only 30– THIRTY– patients for the first year. Hard to get rich on 30 patients!
Suboxone has the opiate activity of about 30 mg of methadone. When tapering off Suboxone, the vast majority of withdrawal symptoms occurs during the final parts of the taper– the last 2 mg. That is because of the ‘ceiling effect’. But you are not just tapering off Suboxone…
Do you remember when you started Suboxone, how lousy you felt, and how Suboxone eliminated the withdrawal? YOU NEVER FINISHED GETTING OFF THE STUFF YOU WERE ADDICTED TO. There is no ‘free lunch’; Suboxone allowed you to avoid all that withdrawal; if you stop Suboxone, you have to finish the work you never finished before– going through the withdrawal that you ‘postponed’ with Suboxone! Welcome to the real world– you likely abused those pills for years, and if you don’t want treatment with Suboxone, you had better start a recovery program, or you will be right back to using again.
Human nature can be a disappointment at times… When I ‘got clean’ after my relapse 8 years ago, I was just grateful to be ‘free’– even for just a few days of freedom! To get to freedom, I was in a locked ward for a week, no shoelaces (so I wouldn’t hang myself!), surrounded by people who were either withdrawing or being held to keep them from self-harm (it was a psych ward/detox ward combined). After that, I was in treatment for over three months– away from my family all that time, and I couldn’t leave the grounds without an ‘escort’ (no, not that kind of ‘escort’!). Treatment started at 6:30 AM and ended at 10 PM. The rare ‘spare time’ was used to do assignments. After those three months I was in group treatment for 6 years, and also AA and NA meetings several times per week. I still practice and active program 8 years later– I know what happens to people who stop: they eventually relapse, and some of them die. I AM NOT EXAGGERATING ‘FOR EFFECT’ HERE.
I had better stop or I will spend all of 2009 with this post… My final comment: Most of what you are feeling is not ‘Suboxone withdrawal’. I have watched many people stop Suboxone; some have bad withdrawal, some have NONE. When you talk about ‘anxiety’ or other problems facing life on life’s terms, you are experiencing life as an untreated addict. ADDICTS WHO SIMPLY STOP TAKING THEIR DRUG OF CHOICE FEEL MISERABLE!!! That is not withdrawal, and it doesn’t go away! Suboxone held things ‘in remission’ and allowed you to pretend you were not an addict; it is NOT a cure. So now, off Suboxone, you will see what it is like to live life as an opiate addict without treatment– and if you don’t get treatment, you will likely relapse. You will relapse because untreated addicts find life intolerable.
My human nature comment– everyone wants good things, but nobody wants to do the work to get them… (I’m in a bit of a mood today I guess– sorry). Recovery from opiates has always taken work– very hard work. And even then, success was rare– most people had to go back to treatment over and over and over before finally getting it. If people stopped working, as I stopped working in 1997, they eventually got sick again. Enter Suboxone: now you can have instant remission from active addiction! So are people grateful for that fact? That now, instead of years and years of struggle, they can take one pill each morning and hold their addiction in check? NO. Now they complain that ‘I don’t feel good when I stop Suboxone!’. Sorry, but a part of me says ‘poor baby’. You have a fatal illness, and you think you are done with it… you will find going forward that you will either use, or you will take buprenorphine or a new medication along the same line, or you will be attending meetings for life. Those are your three choices– pick one.
If you find a 4th choice, tell me about it in 5 years. I would like to hear how you did it, and yes, I hope you do find it (rather than die using). But I looked for that other path myself for years and never found it, and so did millions of other addicts.
Back to the present…
Phew.  Makes me tired just remembering those days.  Since then the number of deaths have only gone up, but at least there is a better acceptance for treating opioid dependence using effective medications— at least for people ready to accept that help.

Sick When Starting Suboxone: Abres Los Ojos!

An interesting case from a reader:
Thanks Doc for your efforts. I appreciate you.
I am a four year hydrocodone addict 55 years old. I became addicted when I used the drug for an injured cervical disc.
A couple of years ago I found out about suboxone and got in touch with a Dr. in Tulsa who prescribed it for me. I waited until I thought I was in withdrawl..about twenty hours and took my first dose. I became dizzy, nausiated, numb and all I could do was make it to the bedroom where my nausea eased a bit…I never vomited. I lay there for ten hours in a numbed state half in and out of sleep. The next day I was fine.
The Dr. said I took it too early. So, I waited a week without any hydros and took another pill and got the same results. The Dr. said to flush them and I did.

Two years later I am still an addict. Do you think I should try again? Could I take small slivers of the pill without the negative effects? What do you think?
I am desperate to get clean.
I have also heard about subutex but have never tried it. Could it be that subutex is what I should try for?
Respectfully,
John in Oklahoma
My Response:

High on opiates
High on opiates

How much hydrocodone were you taking in the days leading up to taking Suboxone? Your reaction sound more like a person overdosing on buprenorphine than precipitated withdrawal– do you remember, at the time you were nauseated, were your pupils very large, or very small? If you were in withdrawal your pupils would be huge; if you were overdosing they would be ‘pinpoint’, and if you were having an allergic reaction of some type, they would be about normal.
20 hours should be plenty long for hydrocodone, and your second attempt could not have been precipitated withdrawal, providing you weren’t on some other opiate. Nausea and vomiting are not the main features of withdrawal; more typical would be lower abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Nausea is a big part of overdose, on the other hand. The potency of Suboxone (any dose above 4 mg) is equal to about 30 mg of methadone, or about 60 mg of oxycodone, or about 100 mg of hydrocodone… if you were taking the 5 mg tabs, that would mean that a tablet of Suboxone would equal the potency of about 20 tablets of vicodin. Since vicodin lasts only a few hours, to have an equal tolerance you would need to be taking about 20 times 6 = 120 tabs of vicodin per day. That is a lot of vicodin– enough to kill you by destroying your liver, so you were probably taking significantly less.
Out of junk
Out of junk

I think the Suboxone was just too strong. Yes, you could try working your way up with tiny pieces, but it is
hard to titrate at the low doses because of the unusual dose/response curve. I think a better way, if you are not on a huge dose of vicodin, would be to use clonidine, immodium, and maybe some other things to help with the withdrawal, and use the steps to stay clean… otherwise you will be moving up the tolerance ladder.
Subutex would be another option if I am wrong with my assumptions about your dosing– some rare people do have bad reactions to the naloxone, even though little gets into the system. One other hypothesis… if you were taking tons of vicodin, and your liver was in bad shape, your liver might not have been able to destroy the naloxone (first pass metabolism at the liver is what keeps the naloxone in Suboxone from working), and so the naloxone in Suboxone precipitated withdrawal.
Good luck!
John Writes Back:
Yes, Dr. you may be right. My dose was relatively low, I was taking at or about four or five lortab 10 tablets a day.
I wasn’t aware of the potency of the suboxone. I seem to remember I took the four or five mg. tabs, the small orange hex shaped one.
I did not check my pupils, but if I take it again I will be sure to do that.
I know my dosage is not that of others and that Vicodin addiction is not that of Oxycontin or heroin. That said, I still feel hoplessly addicted to them and have tried the twelve steps twice. That is why I am interested in the suboxone, but like you say it would be stepping up the tolerance ladder, I suppose. Since my willpower is nonexistant at this point, I think I am going to give the suboxone one more try the way I suggested and I will let you know how it works.
Half-wasted?
Half-wasted?

Thanks for your timely reply, and I think you hit the nail on the head.
God bless you
John in Oklahoma
And Me Again:
You might want try a bit of a medication called ‘hydroxyzine’, which is used to reduce nausea from opiates– although it also can be quite sedating, so don’t drive on the combination. A non-sedating alternative would be odantreson (zofran), which is what is given post-op for nausea. In fact, forget the hydroxyzine– premedicate yourself with a dose of zofran, about 4 hours before the induction, and you should do much better.