By German Lopez
Fawn Ricciuti started using opioids a decade ago, when she was enrolled in a New Jersey pain management program. What followed is the kind of story that’s been told thousands of times over the past few years as America’s opioid epidemic has grown: Her casual use of opioid painkillers over time turned into full-blown addiction.
Her doctors eventually tried to wean her off painkillers, arguing that her dosage was too high. While that led her to use fewer opioids for a while, she’d still buy opioid painkillers from the street, she said, to manage pain stemming from painful disorders, including scoliosis. The drug use turned more recreational as she began using opioids with her ex-boyfriend, who’s also the father of her son. Pretty soon, the drugs consumed her life.
But unlike the stories commonly told in the news and coroners’ reports, Ricciuti did not overdose and die. Early in 2017, she got on buprenorphine (common brand name: Suboxone), which does not produce a euphoric high when taken as prescribed. She said that the drug, paired with group therapy, helps her treat not just the cravings and withdrawal that come with addiction and dependence but also, along with chiropractic, the pain that led her to use opioid painkillers in the first place.
Withdrawal “is like going from being how you are now to the worst flu you can think of within hours,” said Ricciuti, who’s 33 and now lives in the Richmond, Virginia, area. “Now I don’t have to stress about whether I have something [drugs] for the morning and how I’m going to get something in the afternoon.”