She won't feel quite right until it kicks in. Suboxone seeps into her system. Doctors prescribe it to help ease the cravings and kill withdrawal symptoms of opiate addicts who are hooked on painkillers like OxyContin, as well as heroin. Alcohol remains the main reason people check into rehab, but West Virginians' demand for opiate addiction treatment has skyrocketed. In , about 5 percent of West Virginians seeking treatment needed help for opiate addiction, according to federal figures.
Last year, that proportion was more than 26 percent. Many are turning to Suboxone, the brand name for a medication whose primary ingredient is the drug buprenorphine.
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Experts say the medication must be combined with counseling and other support to really help. Some users are selling it on the streets, which led the state to tighten controls on the drug. Some people will say Stamper, 25, is just trading one addiction for another. In the past, though, the pull of OxyContin, fentanyl, Lortab and other painkillers was so strong she didn't care whether she lived or died. On a frosty November morning, she waited with other customers at the CVS pharmacy a few blocks away from the center.
It wasn't yet a. The six seats in the waiting area were filled. More customers lingered in the vitamin and nail care aisles. By the time they all left, they carried white paper bags with bottles of Suboxone inside. Stamper and others in the program attend mandatory one-on-one and group therapy, plus four step meetings weekly.
And that's what we try to help them develop.
Doctors taper doses to wean patients off Suboxone. Some people get off it in six months, Parker said. Others take nearly two years. Addicts get "dope sickness" when they quit using opiates. Withdrawal causes diarrhea, muscle cramps, fever, chills, depression.
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The physical symptoms aren't the only hard part of beating an addiction. Many women addicted to painkillers suffered sexual abuse and other trauma, Miller said. That's why therapy and other support are so important. Stamper says she's "all about staying sober. She likes listening to other addicts tell their stories at step meetings. Pill counts and drug tests help ensure clients aren't selling their Suboxone or abusing other substances.
Stamper tried methadone treatment before. She couldn't function on it. Cigarette burns cover her arms -- she used to "nod out" on methadone. A few weeks before Christmas, Stamper waited with about 20 other Prestera clients in a bare room at the mental health center. At the front of the room, a doctor and nurse sat at a folding table with a stack of files.
They called them by name to write their prescriptions. The crowd had thinned out since the last time Stamper had picked up her prescription two weeks earlier, she said. A lot of people had been kicked out of the program. Doctors diagnosed Stamper with scoliosis at age 6. They put titanium rods in her back at age Afterward, they hooked her up to a morphine pump. She remembers lying there thinking it was the best she'd ever felt.
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Doctors prescribed painkillers for Stamper on and off throughout her teens. She thinks she was physically dependent on them by At 18, she started abusing them, she said. She says she lived in an abusive household with her now ex-husband. Social workers took away their 1-year-old son.
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One night, her friend brought over 45 Lortabs. They sat there and did them all. It was the first time she crushed and snorted a pill. She could always find pills, she said over breakfast at McDonald's. She spots a few men at the cash register, in neon green shirts. At one point, she used three fentanyl patches at a time. She stuck one on her head, another on her heart, and ate the gel from another. Fentanyl is 80 times stronger than morphine, and is prescribed for severe pain. Federal regulators approved Suboxone, manufactured by the drug maker Reckitt Benckiser, in Four years later, a federal law made it easier to get treatment.
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