I got my wisdom teeth removed the other day, and afterwards, the oral surgeon gave me a prescription for Percocet. Before going into the surgery, I didn’t even know whether or not the surgeon was going to write me a prescription for a painkiller, but if she did, I thought for sure it would only be for about 5-10 pills—enough to get through the worst, and then I’d switch over to ibuprofen or something. I was wrong. Not only did I leave with a prescription for Percocet, I left with a prescription for 25 pills—enough painkillers, taken once a day, for almost a month. If taken twice a day, almost two weeks.
The opioid crisis is a national epidemic—and particularly rampant where I live in New Hampshire—yet I can leave a simple surgery with a prescription for 25 pills of Percocet. Beyond this, I wasn’t even warned about the risks associated with using opioids, no one asked me about my history of addiction—like whether or not I’ve abused opioids in the past—or informed me of the alternative pain-care options I could use in place of narcotics. I wasn’t even asked if I wanted a prescription for Percocet; it was just given to me.
After the surgery, I vaguely remember waking up in a room with the surgeon and the person driving me home. I don’t remember anything about our little soirée except for a comment that the surgeon made to my friend: “I’m going to tell you about the aftercare procedure because Janina’s probably not going to remember any of this conversation.” And I didn’t. I didn’t remember the conversation. So if that’s the part when she told us about the dangers of opioid addiction, I don’t remember it happening.
I took a Percocet when I got home, then another one six hours later. I woke up the next morning and decided to substitute Percocet with ibuprofen, but by the afternoon, my mouth was hurting again, so I took another Percocet. After taking the third painkiller, I already understood how this drug could be addictive, so I dumped the rest of my supply in the toilet and flushed them down the drain.
After experiencing Percocet first-hand, I can understand why people abuse it, or save their unused pills for a “rainy day:” it doesn’t just make the pain go away, it also affects the mind, and the way the mind and body interact with each other. It felt like an amorphous slug, or some other slimy creature, came into my body and slowed everything down in a smooth, cooling sort of way. The pain disappeared, but in order to do so, it felt like my mind had to disengage from my body, creating two separate entities, separated by a slick, soapy sheen.
The effects of the opioid felt highly dependent on my state of mind, which makes sense, considering how addictive they are, but most surprising to me, the high of narcotics also felt reminiscent of something else: it was similar to the way I feel after practicing yoga—especially Kundalini yoga—or while I’m meditating. I noticed an undeniable connection between the two states-of-mind, separated by a very clear distinction: one stems from more consciousness, while the other stems from less consciousness. In both states, I feel peaceful, present, and comforted, as if someone is hugging me from the inside out. Of course, with yoga, I am creating these changes, and with Percocet, the experience is being artificially produced.
We’re always searching for the fast track to happiness, so I can understand why people would abuse opioids, hoping to reach that goal, but happiness isn’t meant to be permanent. Like everything else in life, it’s transitory, bobbing up and down like the waves of the ocean. The trick is to find contentment in these changes; to ride the wave, so to speak. But even when people understand the impermanence of happiness, it’s still hard to resist a prepackaged, instant version of it, freely offered with no questions asked. For this reason, I wish doctors would take time to counsel their patients on opioid use, and encourage them to find pain relief in other ways, only turning to opioids as a last resort.
I received a prescription for Percocet without being asked if I even wanted a prescription for it. I had the audacity to flush my supply down the drain, but what about the people who don’t dispose of their unused pills? Or for whom the drug is demystified, predisposing them to say “yes” when offered a Percocet at some social gathering in the future? I met a heroin addict once who told me she became addicted to opioids after taking Percocet one time. I don’t know if that’s possible, but it still begs the question: shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to avoid using these drugs?