Drugs to treat opiate addiction like methadone or Suboxone are effective, but still controversial.

How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.

Imagine waking up each morning with your shrill alarm blaring, drenched in your sweat-soaked sheets, your whole body shaking. Your mind is as foggy and gray as the Portland winter sky.

You want to reach for a glass of water, but instead your nightstand is lined with empty bottles of booze and pills. You fight the urge to throw up, but have to grab the garbage can next to your bed.

You try to pull it together for work — or call in sick again.

This is what the average morning is like for someone with addiction.

I can recount these mornings with sickening detail, because this was my reality off and on throughout my late teens and 20s.

Years have passed since those miserable hungover mornings.

Some mornings I wake up before my alarm and reach for water and my meditation book. Other mornings I oversleep or waste time on social media.

My new bad habits are a far cry from booze and drugs.

More importantly, I welcome rather than dread most days — thanks to my routine and also a medication called Suboxone.

Similar to methadone, Suboxone is prescribed to treat opiate dependence. It’s used for both opioid addiction, and, in my case, heroin addiction.

It stabilizes the brain and body by attaching to the brain’s natural opiate receptors. My doctor says that Suboxone is equivalent to people with diabetes taking insulin to stabilize and manage their blood sugar.

Like other people managing a chronic illness, I also exercise, improve my diet, and try to lower my caffeine intake.

How does suboxone work?

  • Suboxone is a partial opioid agonist, which means that it prevents people like me who are already opiate dependent from feeling high. It stays in the person’s bloodstream for an extended period of time, unlike short-acting opiates such as heroin and painkillers.
  • Suboxone includes an abuse deterrent called Naloxone to prevent people from snorting or injecting the medication.

For the first two years I was taking it, I was ashamed to admit that I was on Suboxone because it’s steeped in controversy.

I also didn’t attend Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings because the medication is generally condemned in their community.

In 1996 and 2016, NA released a pamphlet that states you’re not clean if you are on Suboxone or methadone, so you can’t share at meetings, be a sponsor, or officer.

While NA writes that they have “no opinion on methadone maintenance,” not being able to fully participate in the group felt like a criticism of my treatment.

Although I longed for the comradery offered by NA meetings, I didn’t attend them because I internalized and feared the judgement of other group members.

Of course, I could’ve hid that I was on Suboxone. But it felt dishonest in a program that preaches total honesty. I ended up feeling guilty and shunned in a place when I longed to be embraced.

Suboxone is frowned upon not only in NA, but at a majority of recovery or sober houses, which offer support for people fighting addiction.

However, a growing number of studies shows that this type of medication is effective and safe for drug recovery.

Methadone and Suboxone, known generically as buprenorphine, is supported and recommended by the scientific community, including the World Health Organization, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Anti-Suboxone rhetoric also feels dangerous when there was an all-time high of 30,000 deaths due to opiates and heroin and 72,000 total drug overdose deaths in 2017.

A recent study published in June 2018 found that Suboxone reduced overdose death rates by 40 percent and methadone by 60 percent.

Despite the proven effectiveness of these medications and support of international health organizations, unfortunately only 37 percent of addiction rehabilitation programs offer an FDA-approved drug to treat opiate addiction like methadone or Suboxone.

As of 2016, 73 percent of treatment facilities still followed the 12-step approach even though it lacks evidence for its effectiveness.

We prescribe aspirin to help prevent heart attacks and EpiPens to prevent allergic reactions, so why wouldn’t we prescribe Suboxone and methadone to prevent overdose deaths?

I think it’s rooted in the stigma of addiction and the fact that many continue to view it as a “personal choice.”

It wasn’t easy for me to get a Suboxone prescription.

There’s a significant gap between treatment need and the number of clinics and doctors that have the proper credentials to prescribe methadone or Suboxone for addiction.

Even though there were many barriers to finding a Suboxone clinic, I eventually found a clinic that’s an hour and a half drive from my house. They have a kind, caring staff and addiction counselor.

I’m grateful that I have access to Suboxone and believe it was one of the things that contributed to my stability and going back to school.

After two years of keeping it secret, I recently told my family, who was extremely supportive of my less conventional form of recovery.

3 things about Suboxone I’d tell friends or family:

  • Being on Suboxone feels isolating at times because it’s such a stigmatized medication.
  • Most 12-step groups don’t accept me at meetings or consider me to be “clean.”
  • I’m worried how people will react if I tell them, especially people who are part of the 12-step program like Narcotics Anonymous.
  • For my friends that have listened, supported, and encouraged people like me in nontraditional recovery: I treasure and value you. I wish that all people in recovery had supportive friends and family.

Although I’m in a good place now, I don’t want to give the illusion either that Suboxone is perfect.

I don’t like having to rely on this little orange film strip each morning to get out of bed, or dealing with the chronic constipation and nausea that comes with it.

Someday I hope to have a family and I’ll quit taking this medication (it’s not recommended during pregnancy). But it’s helping me for now.

I’ve chosen prescription support, counseling, and my own spirituality and routine to stay clean. Although I don’t follow the 12 steps, I believe it’s important to take things one day at a time and be grateful that in this moment, I’m clean.

Tessa Torgeson is writing a memoir about addiction and recovery from a harm reduction perspective. Her writing has been published online at The Fix, Manifest Station, Role/Reboot, and others. She teaches composition and creative writing at a recovery school. In her free time, she plays bass guitar and chases her cat, Luna Lovegood