By Judith Carr Bruno
Editor’s Note- Judie Bruno is a 68-year old Army vet and amputee who lives in California.
I’m not a doctor or a medical person – and I’m not going to tell you what is going on with you as you stop a pain medication and are dealing with withdrawals, but only what I’ve experienced myself. So many American’s are having their pain medications refused and they will find themselves going through withdrawals in doing so.
In 1995 after amputating my right leg in order to get off of the high levels of narcotic medication the VA had me on, I took the steps to get off of it all. I was at the time taking 185 Mil of Slow Release Morphine a day, and two Percocet every 4 hours for “breakthrough pain” and sitting at home watching TV. Not the life I want, but after 12 surgeries on my right ankle it was so painful I couldn’t move it or use it in anyway. It needed to come off. My surgeon at the time asked me how I thought it would be best to stop using these medications and I suggested that he change the slow release morphine to instant release – 15 mil a pill and I started by cutting one 15 mil pill every Monday. By Wednesday through Friday I had flu-like symptoms. Not extreme, but bad enough where you just stay in your PJ’s all day long on the couch. I would then start feeling better by the weekend, only to start all over again the next Monday. After weeks of this, I finally was off of it and started the same process with the Percocet and cut down one pill every Monday to again have the flu-like symptoms.
Due to the VA’s policies on the use of Medial Marijuana (even in states like CA where it’s legal), they refused to give me one of the pain medications I was taking and forced me to stop the Zanax I had been on for over 9 years. From what I have heard, Xanax is not like an Opioid and is so much harder on you and your system to stop taking it.
In November, the VA told me they were cutting my normal prescription in half of what I had been on for years. I didn’t realize the effects this would have on me, and it pretty much ruined my Thanksgiving – and I was hosting the dinner that day. I learned my lesson on that one and made the decision when the VA told me they would only give me one more month at the half-dose, and then no more. I had almost another month’s worth of the double-dose, as I never abuse any drug and only take it when I need to – so I had enough to get me through Christmas even though I was still having withdrawals from cutting to the half-dose.
I had decided to go to a quarter-dose and did so for about a week when I realized I was going to be really sick. I might as well just stop it altogether, get it over with, and then go on with life – or so I thought. As a friend told me, “Oh that Benzo flu is the worst.” She also told me that it’s not like with opioids and you won’t get over it in a week. It takes months before you start feeling normal again – and boy was she right. Almost 12 days now, without any, and I refuse to even take a tiny bit to make me feel better – as I was also warned that doing so could cause a syndrome called “kindling” where each future withdrawal will be even worse. It’s sure no fun, and one day I will be doing a bit better only to be really sick the next. I’m told this could take months to get completely out of my system and for my GABA receptors to heal.
What new hell is this? The doctor at the VA who prescribed this medication for me years ago, never warned me about the side effects; but in truth, we all need to learn about any medication that is prescribed for us and what might happen down the years. Doctors should explain to us what pain medications can or will do to us and then allow the pain patient to make the decisions if the side effects are worth the benefits of taking such a drug. For years, the VA has just thrown pain med’s to Veterans instead of working on the underlying problems as it’s just easier to do, and then wonders why Veterans have become dependent on them. The VA never offered me anything to help with stopping this medication, but just told me I was no longer going to receive it.
Those who suffer from Chronic Pain are not drug addicts. If you have ever dealt with pain so bad that it affects your quality of life, every day, you will do anything to stop the pain. We all, as pain patients, must learn what each drug will do to us, how it will affect us over time, and then have the right to make the decision to either take it or not.