SPECIAL REPORT: What it’s like to detox from opioids
Fighting an opioid addiction is tough. Getting clean is torture. Withdrawal/Detox: necessary hurdles to get and stay clean. Immediate symptoms can last 5 to 7 days, but long-talkterm effects can hang on for up to 2 years
Ben Bentley is a 29-year-old Granger native living in Indianapolis. He is an extremely talented pianist and a heroin addict.
“Because I didn't understand what I was messing with, very quickly I found myself immersed in this life that I didn't know how to get out of,” says Bentley.
He did get out but it wasn't easy.
Growing up Bentley worked with kids with special needs, volunteered at his church, and was a dedicated student earning a scholarship to college. His parents worked hard to prepare their kids for achievement, not addiction.
“It was a beautiful, blessed childhood. They didn't raise their kids to deal with these things. I was set up better than that,” says Bentley.
Bentley was introduced to heroin in his 20s.
“You know I compromised my morals and my better judgment. We all have that intuitive piece of us that knows better and I heard that voice and I was like, ‘eh, we will just put that to the side and I'm gonna try this,” reflects Bentley.
Bentley fell into the depths of addiction. He has 8 felonies, spent nearly 2 years in prison, and tried to get clean countless times.
“I fell right back into it. And I was even worse off than I was originally and I swore to myself I would never go back to it and I believed it and I did find myself there because I didn't understand what it took,” says Bentley.
What it took, for Bentley, was inpatient detox, intensive outpatient treatment and long term therapeutic community.
Getting clean isn't easy. The first several days after an addict stops using opioids can be painful and severe.
“You’re freezing but you can’t stop sweating and you’re just in a pool of sweat sweating and freezing at the same time hot and cold extreme,” explains Bentley, “It feels like ants are crawling under your skin. You can’t stop moving and itching and it will drive you crazy because it lasts for days and days and days and you can’t sleep because of the extreme things you’re going through so then you start to lose your mind because you haven’t slept and you had to experience 72 hours or more of straight pain like this.”
“At the same time on top of all the physical aspects your brain stops producing serotonin when you use so when you stop having that you are left with no chemicals in our brain that produce any kind of happiness or relative level state of mind so it’s like all the color is gone in life. I mean extreme depression happens at the same time,” says Bentley.
Even after the initial detox. It can take up to 2 years for your brain to heal. Experts say addicts can struggle with severe depression for years.
Because of those withdrawal symptoms, relapse rates are high.
“For those that have the disease of addiction it is highly, highly unlikely they will be able to stop on their own without medical care,” says Dr. John Gallagher. Gallagher is an IU South Bend Professor, licensed social worker, and addiction expert.
Gallagher, and many other addiction experts recommend medication assisted treatment. Through the use of medication like methadone...or buprenorphine ...some addicts can wean themselves off the opioids they are addicted to.
“Yes, we are trading one drug for another,” says Gallagher, “because science shows us that when we do that, quality of life improves, criminal behavior and criminal risk decreases, child abuse and neglect decreases, the risk of transmission of HIV and AIDS decreases. So, yes, we are trading one drug for another to improve the individuals quality of life and the overall health of our neighborhood and community.”
And while Gallagher says it is possible for some people to get clean without medication, “it is highly, highly unlikely.”
Another problem for addicts in our area there are very few places to get this kind of help. While there are several inpatient detox programs in our area, there is only one medically-managed inpatient program – and it is 40 minutes from South Bend, in Plymouth.
“When you see someone walk in, they are non-functional. Not only that, they feel awful. That is that desperation to then use the drug. Because they know if they use the drug, they will feel better. What people say is they don't take the drug anymore to get high…they take it not to feel sick,” says Dr. Robert Raster.
Raster is the Medical Director at Michiana Behavioral Health Center in Plymouth.
There is no waiting list to get in, walk-ins are welcome, and it helps get patients signed up for insurance so they can pay. But it is the only medically managed, in-patient detox program in our area for addicts in the first few days of recovery.
“What we do here is we get someone in for 3 to 4 days, locked in, getting treatment. It is amazing what they can do then. They are getting a head start and we can then refer them to an outpatient program where they can follow through with their care,” says Raster.
Michiana Behavioral Health served around 900 people in the past 15 months.
Even Raster believes more help is needed.
“It is amazing how often they can't get it. We need to have more places where they can get it cause it gives them a fresh start,” says Raster.
Bentley had to travel to Indianapolis to get the help he needed.
“It's irrelevant how you got here, what you did. You need to cleanse your soul and move on and just accept that you are powerless over this substance,” says Bentley.
Bentley has been clean for 15 months. He's written a book about his journey. It's called Powerless and he hopes to one day publish it.