Migraines, Addictions and Dr. Feelgood
I am a drug addict. I can say this even though I have not taken a narcotic in 3 years. I am also a sufferer of chronic migraines and Occipital Cluster headaches.
My migraines are mostly the result of bad genes… I am a 48yr old male. My dad suffered, as did his mom, and now 2 of my 3 daughters also have infrequent but unmistakeable attacks. I was first diagnosed when I was 4 years old, so migraines have been a way of life for me.
In 2002, I began to suffer pain on a scale that was unprecedented. The pain was all in my left eye, I was suffering from facial drooping… I didn’t know what to do with myself. My GP sent me to a new Neurologist who prescribed me a nasal spray called STADOL. This is where my life started to go downhill.
Contrary to the manufacturers claims, STADOL was a highly addictive narcotic, and my Neurologist was prescribing me 12 bottles at a time. I was quickly to the point where I was going through a bottle a day, and the narcotic induced headaches were as bad as the migraines.
On one of my visits to the Neuro, he noticed a tremor in my left foot (it’s amazing that I could walk!) and the facial drooping, and ordered an MRI. When the results came back he said that there was an area of calcified blood, and that I had suffered a stroke at some point. He didn’t explain why the supposed stroke was affecting the wrong side of my body, and said that he had consulted with his colleagues and didn’t know what to do with me, and didn’t know how to categorize my headaches. I think He then completely wrote me off… He prescribed me Duragesic Patches. I started at 50, but tolerances built quickly, and I went up to 100. When that didn’t work, I started cutting them open and snorting a diluted form of the gel. My Doctor was more than happy to prescribe 5 boxes at a time, as well as Oxycontin for breakthrough pain, which I also ground up and snorted.
The amazing thing is that I functioned for 3 years without killing myself or anyone else. I worked at a job where I had country wide responsibilities, I traveled extensively, drove extensively, and functioned. However, I was going downhill quickly. I was no longer taking these drugs for pain relief… I stopped feeling any “High” from them long ago… I now needed an ever increasing amount just to stop the withdrawal sickness.
I finally realized that I couldn’t go on… I went to a new neurologist, and he told me that he doubted the stroke diagnosis, and that most of my symptoms were probably to do with the narcotics, and that I needed to come off them.
So I did… Cold Turkey. I don’t recommend this. Dr. wanted me to go on Methadone, but I refused. I cant even begin to describe the nightmare of withdrawal, and even after the physical effects, it was probably 8 months until I lost some of the cravings.
By this time I was out of work, but had a clearer head and although I suffered from the occasional migraine, that horrendous left sided pain had disappeared.
Then life started over, and everything was going well until 3yrs later when the searing pain came again.
I had just started a new job, and ended up in hospital for 3wks while they tried to figure out what was going on.
I left the hospital with no job, and a new Rx for Hydromorphone, with the instructions to take 9mg three times a day. I was getting no relief with these, so I went back to my old ways… by crushing and snorting these pills, I got immediate relief, and a new addiction. In February 2011, I was going through 380 pills every 2 days, and falsifying prescriptions to get my fix. Nothing mattered to me but the drugs. It was then that my Doctor caught me when the Pharmacy questioned the date on one of the false prescriptions. He could have had me arrested, but he didn’t, and he helped me to get sober, and find the right people to properly diagnose me, and to try to help me.
It’s bad enough that we struggle with the pain and stigma of a chronic pain condition; I wonder how many of us struggle with a silent addiction as well. Not everyone gets addicted to opiates, and I never thought that I would fall so deeply or so quickly, but the search for pain relief can lead down some dark paths.
This story does have a happy ending… I started seeing a wonderful Dr. here in Toronto who properly diagnosed my conditions. She then sent my to a pain specialist who performed a trigeminal nerve Cauterization. I have not had a Cluster headache since this procedure, and the migraines are kept at bay with Topamaz, Gapapentin, and an anti-inflammatory.