Nearly 1.5 million Americans were treated for addiction to prescription opioids or heroin in 2015, according to federal estimates, and when those people get seriously hurt or need surgery, it’s often not clear, even to many doctors, how to safely manage their pain. For some former addicts, what begins as pain relief ends in tragedy.
Max Baker is one such case. He started using prescription pain pills as a teenager in New England and quickly moved on to heroin. His father, Dr. James Baker, is a physician in the Worcester, Mass., area, and says he saw signs that his son was high on opioids — in Max’s pupils and skin tone. He begged Max to stop.
“He would have slurred speech, and be nodding off at the dinner table, and we’d go to a concert together and he would disappear and come back acting differently,” James Baker says.
It was a long, painful slog, but Max eventually sought help. When he was 22, he was prescribed an opioid called suboxone, a standard relapse prevention drug that helps wean people off opioids. After a year, he’d worked his way off that medication, too.
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