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Real Life

Real life story: “I was addicted to Opioids”

After being diagnosed with a prolapsed disc in her spine, Joeleen became addicted to her prescription pain medication. Here, she shares her difficult journey...

Joeleen Koszyk, 24, shares her true life story:

The sound of crying woke me. My eight-week-old son, Cohen, needed feeding.
“I’ll get him,” I said to my boyfriend, Nicholas, rolling over to face the bassinet beside the bed.
But as I tried to sit up, pain shot down my legs and suddenly I couldn’t move from the waist down.
“I can’t get up!” I panicked to Nicholas.
I had no idea what had caused it – maybe I’d pulled 
a muscle or something.
Nicholas took the day off work to tend to Cohen and 
I stayed in bed.
I thought it would pass but a few days later I was still in agony.
Somehow I managed to hobble to my GP, who referred me for an MRI scan.
“You have a prolapsed disc in your spine, which has trapped a nerve,” the doctor said when I went in for my results.
“I’ve no idea how you’ve even been walking.”
I was shocked it was something that sounded so serious .“How do we fix it?” 
I managed to ask.
The doctor paused.
“I’m afraid we can’t,” she said. 

“You have a degenerative spinal condition. The discs are crumbling. There’s no cure.”
I couldn’t believe what 
I was hearing.
Me and Cohen - I was scared I wouldn't be able to play with him.
The doctor said I could have surgery to help relieve the pressure on the trapped nerve, but my condition would get worse as I got older.
It was likely I’d always be in pain and as it progressed, I’d struggle to walk.
Back home, I wept 
in Nicholas’s arms.
“I might end up in 
a wheelchair,” I sobbed. “What if I can’t play 
with Cohen?”
Over the next six months, the pain became unbearable.
I couldn’t lift Cohen, so my mum had to help out while Nicholas was at work.
Finally, I was booked in for the surgery 
to relieve the pressure on 
the nerve.
I was in hospital for a week then I was sent home with painkillers.
I took 10mg of Endone, Targin and sometimes Panadeine Forte.
The effect was almost instant. The tablets took the edge off and made me feel warm and fuzzy.
Within 
a week, 
I found getting to sleep and walking around much easier, too.
When my aunt Vanessa came to visit me, I told her how well the medication was working.
“Opioids are addictive,” 
she warned.
“I know someone who ended up in hospital because they couldn’t get 
off them.”
Worried, I told the GP what she’d said.
“As long as you’re sensible and only take the drugs to manage the pain, you’ll be fine,” she reassured me.
The trouble was that after a few weeks, the recommended dose wasn’t helping with the pain anymore so my GP wrote me out 
a prescription for a higher dose.
But soon, that wasn’t enough.
If I left the house without taking 
a couple of packs 
of pills with me, 
I’d have horrible anxiety attacks.
I was worried that if I didn’t have my meds, I’d end up in agony, unable to walk.
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“You sure you’re not taking too many?” Nicholas asked one day.
It must’ve been obvious how much I relied on them.
“It’s not like I’m addicted!” 
I snapped back at him.
But the truth was, I was having to take more and more of the pills everyday to cope with the pain.
A year after my diagnosis, 
I worked out I’d taken about 
200 prescriptions to the pharmacy.
It still wasn’t enough.
I googled the maximum dose of opiates I could take without overdosing and started taking that.
I was popping about 25 pills a day.
It made me feel so woozy.
While Nicholas was 
at work, I’d lie on the couch all day.
I could barely play with Cohen, who was 18 months.
I’d just sit him in front of movies instead.
Nicholas had to do all the cooking and cleaning when he got home from work.
I’d just lie on the lounge, staring into space or I’d go to bed and sleep.
“I think you have a problem,” Nicholas said.
“I don’t,” I snapped.
My parents were worried, too.
My mum kept showing me news clippings about people addicted to prescription painkillers.
In the end I got so fed 
up with everyone telling 
me I had a problem, that 
I decided to quit cold turkey.
“I’m off the painkillers,” 
I told Nicholas.
He seemed so pleased.
But within a few of hours, I started shaking.
Then the pain started.
It was unbearable, not just my back and legs, but my whole body was screaming.
By the next night, I was writhing in pain.
“I can’t take it anymore!” I screamed.
I found a prescription 
I hadn’t used and drove 
to the pharmacy.
I took the maximum dose right there in the car park.
It was in that moment 
I realised the truth – I really was an addict.
I’d been in denial for so long.
But now I thought about how I’d been spending my life in bed, unable to care 
for my son, and I felt like 
such a failure.
I drove to my parents’ place. “I don’t want Cohen growing up with a drug addict mum,” 
I cried.
“You can beat this!” Mum assured me.
Nicholas was incredibly supportive, too.
After my failed attempt at cold turkey, I knew I had to wean myself off the drugs by gradually reducing my dose.
I contacted an organisation called ScriptWise, who offered to support me in coming off the pills.
I joined Facebook groups and discovered there were thousands of others like me who’d got addicted to prescription painkillers without even realising.
They too had suffered terrible withdrawal symptoms.
Joeleen with Cohen when the pain first started.
It was hard.
Some days I was in extreme pain but on a lower dose I could focus better and spend time with Cohen.
I had more energy to run around with him in the park, too.
After three months I was medication-free.
I had good and bad days with the pain, but finally 
I’d beaten my addiction.
“You’re like a different person,” Nicholas said.
I want my story to be a warning to others.
Opioid and painkiller addiction is an easy trap to fall into.
Many doctors hand out prescriptions for these drugs without warning people how dangerous they can be in the long-term.
You can be an addict in 
your own lounge room and 
not even realise.
I learned 
that the hard way.

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