The Way Out

By Jeevika Verma

How do you get over an opioid addiction?


[VERMA]: This is Telling True Stories in Sound.

[Camilla]: You can’t control your arms or legs.

[VERMA]: That’s Camilla Broderick. She’s 29.

[Camilla]: I can’t articulate what I’m doing…

[VERMA]: You can’t hear this, but Camilla is trying to show me what a body goes through in opioid withdrawal.

[Camilla]: It’s kind of like a muscle spasm in your legs and arms and you can’t really control them.

[VERMA]: Camilla started doing drugs when she was just a teenager. It was 2005. She was depressed and it seemed like everyone at her private girls’ school in Manhattan was self-medicating with prescription opioids.

[Camilla]: Yea it looks like the 1980s, but that’s just how I dressed, not how everyone else dressed.

[VERMA]: I’m looking at a picture of Camilla in high school. She’s wearing a green plaid skirt, a black polo shirt, knee-high socks, and she has short brown hair.

[Verma]: Is this how everyone else dressed?

[Camilla]: No… (laughter)

[Verma]: Wow, I don’t recognize you with your… not pink hair.

[VERMA]: I’ve never seen Camilla without pink-ish hair in real life, but then she shows me another picture, where she’s 15 or 16, and her hair is purple. But…

[Camilla]: I was making fun of the other girls there by trying to dress the way they were dressing. I was mocking them.

[Verma]: So, in this picture, Camilla is sort of standing with her hands on her hips, there’s a tiara on her head, and… are those clothes yours?

[Camilla]: Uh, no…

[Verma]: and yea, so she’s wearing a  white lacy shirt and a glittery belt…

[Camilla]: Oh they hated that hair. When people came to visit, they shoved me in a closet.

[VERMA]: “They” being the authorities at her school.

[Camilla]: I’d done it because that skirt is green and we’re only allowed to wear shirts that match that.. So no pinks or reds or purples… but it didn’t say anything about the hair. It was a loophole.

[VERMA]: Anyway, you get the point: Camilla was rebellious, but she’d never gotten into serious trouble. But then… at 16, she got expelled from that school — for doing drugs.

[Camila]: There was a girl who started using heroin and they didn’t kick her out because she went to a really fancy rehab and I guess she slipped the school something and they said, “oh we have to be there for her and we support her”…but they kicked me out … not for heroin but for coke… and they kept anyone who could be useful to them financially but my parents couldn’t be useful to them

Music In

[VERMA]: Camilla’s parents are college professors, and, after a lot of back and forth with several schools, she finally graduated from a public high school. By then, she was more depressed, and she’d made friends with a heroin addict. As stories go, it took her some time to realize it, but Camilla was soon addicted to opioids.  

But, this isn’t exactly a story about Camilla’s addiction. It’s about her recovery. This coming May, Camilla will be three years clean. And the path that led her here is a twisted one.

[Camilla]: The only reason I detoxed was, I went into jail… I’m pretty sure if I didn’t go to jail I’d probably be dead.

Music Out

[VERMA]: Camilla was arrested because she had used her name to open a bank account for a friend — a drug dealer — who had apparently been stealing the money that he was depositing into her account. She had no idea this was going on, say says, but she remembers how, as soon as she was arrested, she spent several days without any medication just waiting to figure out what was going to happen to her.

[Camilla]: I didn’t have anything. I was in suicide watch for the first part of it. I was in the psych ward for the rest of it just shaking and vomiting.

[VERMA]: But, unlike most jails in the country, at Rikers Island, where Camilla was taken, incoming substance users do get access to methadone treatment. So, after she was processed into the system, Camilla had two options. She could detox, or take the medicine called methadone that they were giving her.

[Camilla]: But at least one of them’s got an end date. The detox was going to be hell — like two weeks of hell, but the methadone was a year of hell. And I wasn’t going to go through that again.

[VERMA]: Let’s backtrack a little bit. Methadone is a very common medicine that works kind of like a nicotine patch for opioid users. It’s been around for decades. By providing just a little bit of opiate for relief, it’s supposed to make patients in heroin withdrawal more comfortable, reduce their chance of overdose, and keep them functional in their daily lives. But Camilla says…

[Camilla]: I decided that I would rather detox than get back on methadone.

[VERMA]: Hearing that almost feels surreal, because I’ve talked to a lot of recovering addicts, and most people wouldn’t choose detox over treatment. Like most users wanting to recover, Camilla did turn to methadone at first. She was 21. She knew she had a problem. She wanted to get clean. But immediately, she knew that something just wasn’t right, even in the way that the methadone treatment was set up.

[Camilla]: You have to physically go to a methadone clinic, at least every six days out of the week. You have to be seen taking it. Not only do you have to work it into your schedule. It’s also embarrassing. You have to open your mouth and swallow it which can be demeaning for a lot of people.

[VERMA]: Camilla remembers —

[Camilla]: There were these old women that had been on it for years, wreaking havoc on their bodies. They had maybe two or three teeth.

[VERMA]: Methadone gives you dry mouth, so if you take it very often, your teeth can start to rot.

[Camilla]: They were trying to tell all of us to get off of it, all the young people that would come.

[VERMA]: But the doctors…

[Camilla]: They kept putting me on higher and higher doses until I was on 120 or 140 mg.

[VERMA]: The average daily dose is 80 – 100 mg.

[Camilla]: I gained 80 pounds on it. It was all water. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t walk a block without pouring sweat. The one flight of stairs I had to walk up to get the methadone was just a hassle every day.

[Verma]: What else did you do? How did you spend your day?

[Camilla]: I sat at home and I read and I watched TV and that was it. I tried to go to a class at one point but just getting on the bus was brutal.

[VERMA]: Now, Camilla’s doctors just couldn’t figure out why she was reacting so poorly to methadone. But she also felt so tied to it.

[Camilla]: You can’t go on a vacation when you’re methadone.

[VERMA]: And… forget vacation for a second. What do you do when you just can’t get to the methadone clinic? Like, during a natural disaster…

Music In

[Camilla]: I was on methadone when Hurricane Sandy hit and it was just a catastrophe. I had planned it out where I had extra.

[VERMA]: Camilla’s mother, who was always putting away extra food in the freezer in case of emergencies, had taught her to always be prepared. And so, Camilla had done the same with methadone medication.

[Camilla]: You get one bottle a week.

[VERMA]: That’s the Sunday dose that you get to take home because methadone clinics are closed on Sundays.

Music out

[Camilla]: …and I had been putting little bits of it away every week. So by the time Hurricane Sandy hit, they didn’t give us anything, even though they knew in advance that it was coming they didn’t give us anything. They gave us like one bottle.

[VERMA]: Just enough methadone for one day.

[Camilla]:… and it was out for three days. And I had methadone because I had saved it up but nobody else did and everybody came back the day it opened and there were lines around the block.

[VERMA]: People were not feeling well. They were fighting each other in line.

[Camilla]: And in that time period — you know that everyone else there is sick but only you being sick matters so everyone wants to be in the front of the line because their pain is the only pain that matters right now.

[VERMA]: That’s withdrawal. And on methadone, withdrawal can be so much worse than other opiates, because it stays in your system a really, really long time.

[Camilla]: They call them liquid handcuffs for a reason. You’re completely stuck and trapped in that cycle.

[VERMA]: And Camilla says that she doesn’t think that methadone actually works very well.

[Camilla]: Anything that’s keeping people from dying is serving a good purpose to me. But I just never saw anyone getting better on it. I saw maybe two people get better on methadone and the rest of them were just maintaining their habit on it.

[VERMA]: So, ok, I guess I can now see how, when Camilla got arrested, she said no to methadone. But then, how did she recover?

[Camilla]: In some way, jail is — it’s uncomfortable, it’s terrible and it’s boring and there’s no way to distract yourself — but in other ways, it’s a good place to detox because you can’t just leave. But that’s really the only benefit. God, I would have killed for a book.

[VERMA]: Camilla loves reading. She has always been interested in crime and serial killers and psychology and… why people do the things they do.

[Camilla]: When I was a kid, I was not allowed to watch anything traumatizing, like, I wasn’t even allowed to watch Disney movies. Then that just turned into, when I could make my own decisions, that I would just watch terrible things. I binge-watched all these ‘80s horror movies, all the Nightmare on Elm Streets, the Jasons…

[VERMA]: So after her arrest, whenever Camilla could get access to books in prison it was because her dad brought her these scary books.

[Camilla]: …my dad would just go into the horror section and pick one out and say, well this looks horrible, Camilla will love it!

[VERMA]: Camilla got out of Rikers on May 4, 2017. She served her entire 8-month sentence without the help of any medication whatsoever. She had already detoxed, but there were other obstacles in her recovery.

[Camilla]: I don’t know what would have happened if a lot of these things didn’t happen to me… By the time I really stopped doing heroin is when fentanyl really hit big.

[VERMA]: Fentanyl is the new, cheap, extremely potent narcotic that’s being added to drugs these days. And it’s one of the leading causes of overdose.

[Camilla]: And by the time I got out of jail, it was just everywhere. Since I’ve gotten out, three of my friends have died.

[VERMA]: So now, after detoxing, instead of running into fentanyl, Camilla is trying medication. After methadone, and before her arrest, Camilla tried Subutex, a second, slightly more expensive but less regulated type of medication for opioid use treatment. It was better than methadone, but left her pretty uncomfortable and constipated. Plus, it wasn’t actually taking her heroin cravings away. After her release. she switched to a third medicine called Vivitrol, which she’s still on today, even though

[Camilla]: It just really hurts. Every month you have to get this huge inch-and-a-half long needle in your butt.

[VERMA]: And Vivitrol is an opioid blocker. So it doesn’t allow you to get high on heroin.

[Camilla]: It just takes the whole option away… and you don’t really think about it because you know you can’t do it, there’s just no physical way anything is gonna happen so you don’t really think about it. I haven’t thought about it all.

[VERMA]: The ‘it’ she’s talking about is heroin. And, Camilla says she feels really lucky to be on Vivitrol. It’s a new medication and each monthly injection costs $1000. Camilla has insurance that covers it, but most insurances don’t. And money isn’t the only thing stopping users.

[Camilla]: There’s nothing you have to do to start methadone, you can just walk into a clinic and they can give it to you that day. There’s not much you have to do to start suboxone — you have to be sick for maybe 24 or 48 hours. Vivitrol, you have to be completely detoxed to start taking it, and nobody wants to do that.

[VERMA]: So with all these different medicines, some opiates themselves, some not… Camilla has tried everything. She even tried NA — Narcotics Anonymous.

[Camilla]: First steps of NA you have to admit that you’re completely powerless over the situation and only God has the power to save you, and I refused to do that, so they would kick me out of the meetings because I refused to say that.

[VERMA]: Camilla says it’s all about what’s underneath — her depression — and how she deals with it.

Music in

[Camilla]: I had very severe depression that I didn’t know how to deal with it all, how to have good coping mechanisms, you know, I turn 30 this year. At that time I was just a kid doing different drugs, and that was workable, then the school thing happened and everything happened after that and that set this dynamic shift that kind of spiraled everything.

[VERMA]: Now, she’s a full-time student at Hunter College and will transfer to John Jay this fall to study criminology. But she’s nervous…

[Camilla]: When I was 18 I started at John Jay, and I didn’t like it and I ended up not going to class and then I ended up becoming a drug addict and never went back to class. And now I’m going back to John Jay and I’m scared a bit

[VERMA]: Now, through her recovery, Camilla is just trying to go back to being herself, and understanding who she is, what she likes to do, and how she got here.

[Camilla]: It definitely wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for me. Nobody came into the cell and said, don’t take methadone. No one took the withdrawal pain away. No spirit with wings came and make me stop having spasms. Nothing miraculous happened. I don’t see what didn’t take my own will to do.

[VERMA]: And I guess what she’s saying is… this is just one story of recovery. Even after all the different treatments that she tried, Camila really just had to rely on herself. Everyone’s path to recovery is painful—

[Camilla]: I just had to go to jail and kind of snap out of it and that’s just what had to happen to me.

[VERMA]: —and everyone has to find their own way, knowing there’s a possibility they’ll make it through.

Music out

Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions.

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