Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Unintended Addict

My cancer story started with a trip to an emergency room because I had abdominal pain.  Since then, I’ve been dealing with pain of some kind (from mets to my liver and bones) on a daily basis.  Most of the time, my pain has been fairly easy to control.  For the first couple of months, I took ibuprofen (Motrin).  Despite having to take ~1200-1400 mg per day, everyday, it did the trick and I was glad that I was able to manage my pain with an over-the-counter medication.  At the end of January I needed to prepare for a second liver biopsy and since ibuprofen causes increased bleeding, I needed to switch to another painkiller before my doctors were willing to consider doing a surgical procedure. 

My oncologist suggested Oxycontin as an alternative painkiller because it’s so good at controlling pain, plus it doesn’t add any bleeding risks.  I was very hesitant to take it because I’d heard that it is so addictive.  After a long discussion with my doctor, it didn’t seem like I had many choices if I didn’t want to delay getting my liver biopsy, which I didn’t.  So, towards the end of January, I switched from ibuprofen to Oxycontin, (Oxy).  Oxy is easier to take because it’s a longer-acting drug.  Rather than taking 2-3 ibuprofens 3-times/day, I was taking 1 Oxy, twice a day.  It easily worked into my medication regiment and controlled my pain well. 

In March I started my new oral chemotherapy, which has been a real pain in the keester, (figuratively), to adjust to.  I’ve had lots of dizziness, nausea/vomiting, and fatigue.  It’s taken nearly a month, but it seems that my body is finally adjusting and the side effects seem to be subsiding.  In dealing with all the side effects, it took me awhile to realize that I was actually feeling fewer disease symptoms…less liver discomfort and almost no bone pain.  After another discussion with my oncologist, I decided to stop taking Oxycontin,  (which is much easier said than done.)  For the first week, I cut back to half an Oxycontin pill, twice a day.  I really felt no difference.  Then, a few days ago, I reduced my intake to ¼-pill twice a day.  That has not gone so well.

Mid-day of the second day I was on a ¼-pill, I started having strange sensations that I’ve never experienced before.  I was hot, then cold, within minutes, then I’d be sweaty and had nausea/vomiting.  When cold, I’d shiver.  Then there were moments where I needed to violently shake my body. I was experiencing incredible anxiety and felt like I wanted to jump out of my skin. I soon realized that I was experiencing withdrawal. I called my oncologist who agreed that I was probably experiencing some withdrawal symptoms and suggested weaning off of the Oxy even slower than I was.  He suggested ½-pill in the mornings and ¼-pill at night, so that in total I was taking ¾ of a pill per 24-hours.  I’ve done this for two days now, and things are going a little better.  I haven’t had any more nausea/vomiting from withdrawal and less anxiety, rapid temperature changes and shakes.

In getting information on-line, I now understand that detoxing from Oxycontin is very difficult.  It’s a synthetic opiate that’s highly additive and most successful detox stories involve either out-patient or in-patient professional help of some kind.  So, if I can’t do this by myself, I’ll take the next necessary step. 

I am now sympathetic to addicts of any kind.  I had no idea how such cravings start and now understand that one can also become an unintended addict while just trying to legitimately manage one’s own health. Shoot….I’m even empathetic to Rush Limbaugh, who also became addicted to Oxy.  I think of street people I’ve seen lying on a sidewalk, shaking, and now realize the hell they were experiencing. No matter how they ended up there, withdrawing from a toxin is a horrible experience.  Trust me.

Lost in this whole story is that I’m trying to get off of Oxycontin because I have a lot less pain these days…which makes me more hopeful that my new oral chemotherapy is actually working.   


Shirley Kroot said...

Good luck in titrating off the Oxy. I never knew how addictive it could be. Love, Shirley

Wanwan said...

How scary! Such ups and downs you are enduring. "Taihen desu ne!"


Denise Friesen said...

God always wants us to find the wisdom in our trial, or in your case pain. You have done well at identifying with people that most of don't understand. Thanks Luna, it gives us all insight.

I hope that you have been able to kick some of the med in order to not feel the ups and downs of side effects vs. withdrawals.

I'm looking forward to visiting you...maybe early June?
Praying for you today,