This is how the solution becomes the problem: I first took suboxone to withdraw from heroin. Now I’m hooked on it.
I first heard of suboxone about a decade ago. An ad in the back of the Village Voice got my attention. The ad claimed it had been used in Europe “for years.” And that it was a “painless, hassle free way to detox from opiates.” I was snorting heroin and wanted desperately to find a way to stop, now that I was a full-blown addict.
At the time, however,suboxone was not being supervised by any real doctors. I had to travel to an empty building in the middle of Queens. The “doctor” only took cash and, as long as he got paid, you were guaranteed a prescription. Needles were given out, along with vials of suboxone that you were to shoot into a muscle of your choosing. I explored the option one time, but it was all a little too creepy, a little too dangerous, and ultimately an excuse to pretend to be a recreational heroin user. After all, I could snort dope on the weekends and pump suboxone on the weekdays. Talk about messy. It was not at all what I needed.
Finally, I decided on a more adult method. I decided a methadone program was a good idea. The “sickness” that came with physical addiction was overwhelming for me. My body just couldn’t take it. Methadone seemed to promise freedom from that, and a tapering off that would be regulated by proper doctors. But while the methadone kept me away from heroin, it brought a whole new set of problems. Physically, it made me lethargic, and even gave me a sort of high that I was afraid I was becoming dependent upon.
The doctors at the clinic were never consistent. When a counselor would leave, for undisclosed reasons, my dosage would almost certainly change. I’d go from 70 milligrams to 90 to 80, then back to 70. It seemed like tapering off was not in my immediate future.
The most frustrating aspect of the methadone clinic for me was the daily visit. Every weekday and some Saturdays, I would have to get there at a certain hour, stand in a line in which all sorts of drugs were being passed back and forth, and hope to get my daily dose. I’m a performer. At the time I was working a lot. Getting to an early call meant probably missing a daily dose, which in turn created the fear of the Sickness.
That fear was deadly scary. I knew how crippling withdrawal was for me (though I saw some fellow users breeze right through it!). And it was anxiety that had led me to my love of opiates in the first place. Some days, being afraid of getting sick seemed to surpass the Sickness itself. Finally, when I got a gig that required me to fly to Los Angeles from New York, I knew that I needed to get away from the hold that methadone had over my life. A methadone clinic had to be found in LA, piles of paperwork had to be filled out, and I had to get there every day in a way that my employers wouldn’t discover.
It was the kind of straw that would break any camel’s back. It was a physical and psychological prison that I could not tolerate any more. Fortunately, at around this point, suboxone was making a name for itself in the United States. Not only had it become regulated, but it was in the form of a prescribed pill. I decided to look into it. Despite the advice that switching from methadone to suboxone was almost unheard of at the time, I had to do it.
Per a doctor’s instructions, I dropped myself to a low enough dose of methadone—30 milligrams—to allow me to make the switch. Right when I felt the withdrawal symptoms (about three days after walking away from the methadone clinic entirely), I was to take the pill. I locked myself up and with my father’s help waited three sleepness nights, until I felt my orifices were on the verge of exploding. And before anything came up, I put the pill under my tongue for the first time. Within 20 minutes of its dissolution, I felt better. There was no methadone lethargy or buzz. Just the feeling of safety from the Sickness.
I had done it. It worked. Thank fucking God.
Eight years later, I am still on suboxone. It has evolved from the orange pill to a strip that you place under your tongue. And it has become very regulated. I even hear that methadone clinics offer suboxone treatment as well these days.
Since seeking treatment, I’ve been convinced that I have an “opiate deficiency.” I have been told that I will most likely be on suboxone for the rest of my life. Getting off it would be “next to impossible.” But back in the days before suboxone was regulated, when it was being prescribed by gangsters in Queens, I was under the impression that I only had to have it for a few days. There was no suggestion that it was going to be a lifetime commitment. It was only supposed to get the heroin user through the Sickness. Like a cure-all.
Now I’m back to peeing in cups. I’m under the supervision of a doctor who, despite his good intentions, makes me feel like a dirty junkie all over again. He holds the monthly prescription over me like a good pusher makes you wait.
No matter how brutally honest I am with him, the more I feel like a liar. In fact, the more honest I am about my past, the more he seems to suspect me. For example, I still enjoy marijuana. But when the THC shows up in my urine, the threat of not getting the prescription for that month looms large.
At the most, I’ve gone three days without taking suboxone. I’ve even tried to wean myself off of it. Both times I felt that impending feeling of the Sickness on its way. Although the Sickness from suboxone has not been officially described, I am under the impression that is it positively fatal. “Worse than methadone. Less than 2% of people actually get off,” is what I’ve been told.
It’s like being a user again, only without any high. I can’t run away to Australia, imagine how to survive a zombie apocalypse or get lost in space, because I’m always thinking about how to get that next batch of suboxone.
I look back on my decision with some regret. Although I can proudly say that heroin hasn’t even been a temptation since my switch to suboxone, I wonder if I should have just punched my way through heroin withdrawal. I look to the future knowing that suboxone will not—cannot—be a part of my life forever. At some point, I’m going to have to face that awful, awful, Sickness. I’ve simply prolonged the inevitable.
Dillon Murphy is a pseudonym for a comedian in New York.