After we published the article asking if the opioid crisis is coming to the UK we received a lot of emails that were, quite simply, difficult to digest. Of course, all information we receive is completely confidential and we never share news without the sender’s full permission.

As Horizon goes live with a focus on the opioid crisis coming to the UK, something we reported on back in 2018, we want to remove some stigma and show just how easy it is to slip into an addiction with opioids by sharing the first of a series of stories.

Our source is completely anonymous, if you are an addiction specialist or expert and feel you can help please get in touch with us in the first instance.

In their own words.

“It took a lot for me to admit I had a problem. Every time I saw news of an addict dying on Facebook or Twitter the comments would be the same. “No waste of life there” “Why didn’t they just stop?” “Scum of the earth”

I already had a lot of guilt about my usage, and felt (still feel) absolutely worthless. After reading my story I’m sure you’ll agree that I am.

Here’s how it started.

“15 years ago I suffered from migraines after my father passed away. My dad died suddenly and so my mother was concerned that my usual GP would miss an underlying medical condition as they had with my father. She paid for an appointment with a private doctor, just two weeks after the death of my dad. He prescribed diazepam and Tylex (codeine 30mg/paracetamol 500mg). I was 23, I’d never taken an opiate before. I hated the diazepam as they sent me to sleep, however the codeine would give me energy and felt like a warm hug, which was needed, as I was grieving for my best friend while entering into what was to become a headline abusive relationship.

I won’t go into details of that marriage, but it had a profound effect on me. The day after I asked for a divorce, moved and changed my and my children’s names, I threw every opiate down the toilet. I was a single mum of children, they needed me, I was stupid, I had the strength to stop. I spent three days rocking back and forth, throwing up blood and enduring the worst restless legs ever but after the third day I saw some light.

I stayed off opiates until I met my second husband and we had a daughter. I broke a bone during childbirth and was diagnosed with endometriosis and a pituitary tumour. No one knew of my previous addiction, they were prescribed after all, and so the GP had no trouble in prescribing codeine.

History Repeats Itself

After 6 months I knew I’d slipped into an old pattern. I reached out to my GP to help. He told me to just stop taking them. I tried, but in my head there was always a voice saying, “one won’t hurt, it’ll take the pain away, it’ll give you energy”. I also experienced intense withdrawal symptoms, and as I was the sole breadwinner, I couldn’t afford to take time off work.

I told another GP of the trouble I was having, they put me in touch with the addiction team who wanted me to take subutex. To me, this was akin to a heroin addict seeking help, I was so ashamed. I refused. I didn’t realise then, what I do now, that my addiction was akin to a heroin addiction. I thought that because the painkillers were prescribed I wasn’t in that category. I was wrong.

I thought that because the painkillers were prescribed, I didn’t have an addiction as severe as heroin. I was wrong

The prescriptions stopped and I discovered online pharmacies that were prescribing tramadol. This was great, I could work tirelessly, I could build my career, I could be superwoman, super wife, I could be everything all at once. I had no pain and I also had the energy to work seventy hours a week to keep a roof over our heads.

New laws were brought in which meant tramadol could not be prescribed online anymore. I went to my GP. After an MRI and an operation for endometriosis, I was prescribed zomorph and oramorph (slow and long lasting morphine). I was sent to a pain clinic, where they told me I needed these meds due to extensive nerve damage. I felt like I had a green light to keep on taking them however in the back of my mind I longed for a life without opiates.

I felt I’d overstepped a line by taking morphine, part of me thought I could excuse my addiction if I took something that was not as strong. I told my the pain clinic of my desire to be on a weaker pain killer and they recommended tramadol.

This process spans a period of five years.

In the meantime, I found the online pharmacies were prescribing dihydrocodeine. After unsuccessfully trying to stop the tramadol, I had a plan. I would take dihydrocodeine for 3-5 days to help with the withdrawals of tramadol, and then I would stop, with few withdrawal symptoms.

Although I successfully stopped the tramadol, my usage of dihydrocodeine continued. I’d boxed myself into another trap, and when I tried to stop, an onslaught of symptoms would appear.

I bought dihdryocodeine online through online pharmacies for years, the prescribing EU doctors didn’t question it.

I kept looking for ways out and then I was told about kratom. This was pitched to me as a natural substance that helps addicts give up their DOC. Although I gave up the dihdydrocodeine, I became dependant on kratom*. I told myself I was clean. I didn’t want to admit that all of the substances I’d had a relationship with over the last few years were basically the same thing, opiates, and taking another would not magically cure me, I swapped one addiction for another and put myself back into a trap.

My second marriage came to a natural end 10 months ago for reasons I won’t discuss as it wouldn’t be fair on my estranged husband. In the last two years of the marriage I’d unsuccessfully tried to stop my usage. I knew it was wrong. I didn’t want to ask for help as I felt like a complete failure for repeating the pattern. I felt I should be stronger and able to do it on my own.

I had businesses to run and children to care for, along with all the financial responsibility with no support from elsewhere. I tried weaning down but my use always crept back up so I went cold turkey.

An Unhealthy Detox

The symptoms were ten times worse than I’d experienced before, I was older, in poor health, I couldn’t move, even to make the children’s dinner, yet I couldn’t sit still either. I couldn’t sleep, I started hallucinating. My estranged husband and grown up son helped with the care of the children. Days stretched into a month, and with no money coming in I was at risk of losing the roof over our heads. I couldn’t work as I couldn’t concentrate and I was having multiple panic attacks a day. Then the suicidal thoughts began. On opening my eyes in the morning, my brain would start saying to me, “what’s the point” “end the pain” “just do it” . There was no logic to it, I had everything, my beautiful, forgiving children, my work, my friends, I hated myself for having these thoughts but couldn’t control them. It was debilitating.

No Help for the Wicked

I reached out, through my GP, to addiction services. As I’d already gone through cold turkey they said they couldn’t help. I reached out to a mental health service, they told me that with the addiction my problems were too complex, they couldn’t help. I went back to my GP. My antidepressants were increased and I was sent for a mental health assessment.

The psychologist gave advice, she suggested I receive help from addiction services, who once again said they couldn’t help. By now I’d started taking small doses of my DOC (Drug of Choice) to function, to get out of the house for the mental health assessment, to send simple messages to customers about my absence, to be able to prepare dinner and to be able to sleep a little.

Addiction services told me that because my use was within safe limits, that they couldn’t help. Their resources were saved for serious addicts. Mental health services had washed their hands of me as my problems were too complex. My use crept up again, I found I could work, I could provide again, I could keep the house, I could earn money to keep a roof over our heads, I could do everything expected and more. I could read to my daughter on an evening again for hours, without fidgeting and rocking back and forth. I could do school runs, I could clean, I could play. Yet I know it’s wrong. I know I have a huge problem and I think I need help. I say think as right now I’m wondering why on earth I’m not strong enough to do this alone. I can’t do cold turkey again as I can’t afford any more time off work. I will lose everything and no-one will be able to provide for the children. I hate myself, I hate what I’ve become and feel life slipping away. I know people reading this will not be kind and rightly so. I am indeed, scum of the earth.”

This lady has suffered for years with this problem, with little help. She doesn’t claim benefits, and is the sole provider for her children. Her detox threatened their home. She’s stuck, so please be kind.

It does beg the questions

  • Are there enough resources for high functioning addicts?
  • Is de-prescribing, as discussed on the Horizon episode, really the answer?
  • How many people will be suffering since the closure of online pharmacies?
  • How many addicts did the online pharmacies create?
  • Is this the opioid crisis in the UK?
  • Does she deserve help or should she do this alone?

We will be exploring all avenues of help available along with speaking to top addiction and mental health experts to find solutions to problems like these. If you are affected or have a loved one affected, please do contact us, and we will do our best to connect you to the right people in your area.

*Kratom is an illegal substance in the UK. Batches of kratom have been known to be spiked with other drugs. It is a very dangerous substance to take. We, in no way, advocate the usage of kratom as a method for detox.

If you, or a loved one is battling with addiction some of these resources may help:

MIND

The Samaritans

The NHS