December 12, 2001
“Troy S. is a very typical patient we treat. If he doesn’t get his opiates, he’ll be very sick. After that, he’ll crave these drugs. It’s a physical phenomenon,” says Dr. Clifford Bernstein, the Institute’s Medical Director.
Many legitimate OxyContin users have no sympathy for addicts like Troy. “Go ahead and overdose. And then we won’t have to worry about them anymore,” says Melissa, a cheerleading coach from Maine, who is one of millions benefiting from the drug. She calls it a miracle.
After complications from two-foot surgeries, nothing helped her pain. She switched to OxyContin, and it worked, without the sleepiness or numbness caused by other narcotics.
Melissa is furious that the Oxy underground that Troy moves in has invaded her neighborhood.
Illicit demand for the drug has created an OxyContin crime wave. Prescription holders have been assaulted, addicts have faked pain to get prescriptions, and around the country, there have been more than 700 pharmacy robberies.
Melissa asked 48 Hours not to reveal her last name out of fear of such crime. Her husband, Frank, locks up the whole house every time he leaves her at home.
But Troy S. never robbed anyone, and he is trying to change. In California, Troy spent the night without OxyContin for the first time in years. He was nervous.
Bernstein began a controversial detoxification process called the Waismann Method, which treats opiate dependence as a disease of the central nervous system.
Troy’s body was given a drug called Naltrexone, which removed the OxyContin from his brain and blocked his cravings for opiates, triggering a rapid withdrawal. He was given drugs that put him to sleep so he wouldn’t go through the withdrawal.
Said Dr. Bernstein: “Troy is being injected with drugs that are literally cleansing his brain of opiates. In just four hours, this treatment is supposed to cure the physical dependency that has controlled his life for the last four years.”
Troy’s body twitched as he went into withdrawal. Afterward, the Institute offered Troy a handful of telephone consultations. But critics charge that without extensive therapy, this method is just a quick fix.
In Maine’s opiate-infested Washington County, the alternative is much worse. “We basically have no detoxification thing at all,” said County Sheriff Joe Tibbetts. “They just go cold turkey in that cell.” So compared to some other addicts, Troy has it easy.
“His opiate dependence is completely reversed at this point,” says Dr. Bernstein.
How does Troy feel? “I feel woozy like I woke up from a hard night of drinking, but I feel all right.”
Back in Maine, he begins each day with a dose of Naltrexone, which blocks his cravings, and his body’s ability to get high from OxyContin.
His mother was happy. “The sparkle back in his eyes, his color is better. He looks like a different kid,” she said.
Sheriff Tibbetts is also optimistic, about a new approach to the addiction problem, called Drug Court. Instead of getting jail time, addicts are placed under the supervision of a local judge. They are required to attend daily support meetings and take regular drug tests to make sure they aren’t using.
Two months after treatment, Troy was still sober. He thinks he’s kicked his habit. He’s now getting a regular paycheck, working as a laborer.
The track marks on his arms have vanished, but his experience with OxyContin is something he’ll never forget.
Says Troy: “To anybody who sees this piece and thinks, ‘Wow, that’s a drug I could get my hands on, I’d try that.’ Don’t. Please.”
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