Twenty-eight-year old Louis* loved his adventurous, country childhood. He was popular, talented. But his life began to unravel when he started experimenting with opioids in high school. Then followed a nearly 10 year journey through the misery of addiction. Here’s how he climbed out, with the help of a devoted father and access to the right healthcare at the right time.
Louis grew up splashing in the creeks near his rural southeastern Pennsylvania home. At night, he savored the dark sky, crowded with stars city-dwellers couldn’t see. By high school, Louis had cultivated a close group of friends. And they liked to party, experimenting with drugs and alcohol. “It was a blast,” Louis says.
In college, Louis gravitated toward another group of friends who liked to experiment. In his sophomore year, one friend introduced him to opioids – Roxicet®, a prescription painkiller containing Oxycodone®. “They were like these little tiny mint-sized pills you could easily crush up and inhale through your nose,” Louis says. He liked the way they made him feel, and started taking opioids more regularly. For a while, he used the drugs casually, but soon they were part of his daily routine.
“I’ll never forget the day my life was changed,” Louis recalls. A friend had been stopping by every morning with a Percocet®, another opioid painkiller. One morning he was late, and Louis says he didn’t feel like getting out of bed until that pill arrived. He realized something was wrong. But it would be years before Louis was ready to break his dependence on opioids.
After college, Louis managed to hold a string of jobs – art teacher, bartender, bank teller, waiter – while continuing to use prescription opioids. By the age of 24, he says, he had turned to cheaper, easier-to-find heroin. He cycled in and out of rehab, staying sober for a few months here and there, only to relapse. His addiction and worsening depression turned him into a recluse. Louis knew he needed help.
At the Breaking Point
By December 2016, Louis reached out to his father in desperation. “When I was curled up in the darkness,” Louis says, “my dad dragged me into the light.” Louis’ father took him in and supported him while he untangled himself from drugs.
After an excruciating few weeks detoxing, Louis - who had been without health insurance for a few months - became a member of Independence Blue Cross. He started seeing a doctor, who suggested a medication to help him stay in recovery. Medications like buprenorphine and methadone have been shown to help reduce cravings for opioids and prevent relapse. Once he was able to start the medication, Louis felt hopeful again. Without the treatment, he says, “I would have been broken.”
Now Louis has been sober for more than six months. He sees a therapist as part of his treatment, and he’s relieved that all of it is covered by his insurance.
Dr. Richard Snyder, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Independence Blue Cross, says combining therapy with medication assisted treatment can help patients sustain their recovery. Snyder says Independence’s behavioral health case managers routinely reach out to patients to help connect them to services.
Looking to the Future
Now that he’s healthier, Louis has decided to join the Navy. He likes the idea of a routine, and of seeing the world. And when he completes his service, Louis hopes to go to film school.
Staying sober is a challenge every day, Louis says. It’s all about learning to take care of what you neglected during active addiction. “It’s like being a baby,” he says. “It’s embarrassing,” being out of work, putting the pieces of your life back together, “but you have to do it.”
*Louis asked that his last name not be used to protect his identity.
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