HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Stephanie Downey has been sober from opioids for over a month, and now she shows newcomers at the McShin Foundation the ropes.
“How did your day go today?” Downey asked a new woman who just entered the recovery clinic.
Downey said she got her first oxycodone at age 17 from her aunt, and she loved the high it gave her.
“It felt like you would get warm, the warm sensation feeling,” Downey said.
Downey said she ended up going to a pain management doctor in Petersburg and lied to him that she had back pain.
“You can go right in there and just say your back hurts, your knee, your leg whatever and they’ll prescribe it to you,” Downey said.
She said he immediately wrote her a prescription for five oxycodone pills a day. She added the doctor’s visit and medicine were covered by insurance so she was, essentially, getting a free high.
“It really hurt my life. My body was addicted to the pain pills. I had to have them every single day. I wouldn’t get out of my bed, I wouldn’t tend to my kids, I would lie to my family,” Downey said.
Doctor James Thompson with the Clean Life Medical Addiction Clinic helps people like Downey overcome their addiction to drugs prescribed to them by professionals like him.
“Just because a doctor prescribed it doesn’t mean you should take it, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe for you,” Thompson said.
He said new guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends doctors consider alternatives to opioids for pain relief will make a difference, but not a big one.
“Experience tells me it won’t be enough. It will be small. It’s a good effort, and it’s needed,” Thompson said.
He said doctors continue to prescribe the drugs because they don’t know a lot about addiction, they feel pressure to see as many patients as possible to make enough money to keep their clinics open, and it’s hard to not prescribe something a doctor knows will relieve someone’s pain.
“It’s very tempting to do, it allows you to move on past that problem and to get to the next patient quickly,” Thompson said. “I don’t think the doctors really realize what they’re doing. They are really harming us at this point.”