CALGARY – A Calgary man who found himself hooked on fentanyl is speaking out about the dangers of the synthetic drug and how easy it was to become addicted.
Ben Borger, 27, said he began using fentanyl in 2011, when government regulations made OxyContin more challenging to come by.
“We started finding these green pills,” said Borger. “It actually took years for me to realize that it was fentanyl – and what fentanyl was.”
The former University of Lethbridge student tells Global News his addiction grew quickly, with his tolerance for the drug forcing him to consume it more frequently.
“You’re not bigger than the drug. You will become addicted to it.”
Borger describes fentanyl withdrawal as an allover body agitation with muscle aches and insomnia that could last up to five days.
“All your joints are really sore, like walking around is terrible. You feel nauseated. I was extremely irritable,” said Borger. “Sitting still is torture… you can’t sit still but you can’t move around.”
“It’s not a recreational drug. You get hooked physically and there is nothing you can do about that. Either you have to detox, go to a treatment centre… or you have to continue using it.”
Borger’s addiction became so intense, that the student began making the two hour drive from Lethbridge to Calgary almost every night to pickup more drugs.
His addiction hit a climax in July 2014 when he overdosed in a northeast Calgary Walmart.
“I needed to buy some pants for work,” said Borger. “I remember getting weird looks from people, but I didn’t know why.”
“I was told by police I was ripping my shirt off, I was yelling at pants, talking to myself.”
“I was in my car, crushing up another pill, when the cops showed up,” said Borger. “I said I had a panic attack, I was in complete denial.”
“The police phoned my mom and said she had to get there right away – and that I was going to die.”
Once released from the hospital, Borger went to his parent’s house to spend the night – and immediately took more of the drug.
“The guest room in my parents’ house is in the basement. I snuck out the window… found the drugs that I had been using that day – that I had overdosed on – and used the rest of them.”
Borger eventually sought treatment for his addiction after coming clean to his family.
“The walls were closing in tight,” he said. “I had been fired from my job for the summer – I couldn’t hold down a job at all – and I was going through withdrawals again.”
The young man’s mother took him to the hospital, where he was put in a detox program.
“For eight hours, I’m laying there in a hospital bed, freaking out. I’m punching myself in my face – just losing it. She sat there with me for eight hours.”
“If it wasn’t for my parents and their support, I’m not sure that I would be alive.”
Borger later entered a treatment centre on Vancouver Island, where he participated in a 12-step program.
He said one of the most effective exercises was a family conference, where addicts must sit in silence and listen to family members describe how they’ve been hurt by their loved-one’s addiction.
“You get to hear that you haven’t only been hurting yourself, but you’ve been hurting everyone else around you.”
Although Borger has since completed his time in the treatment centre, he still doesn’t describe himself as a recovered addict.
“I don’t think you’re ever recovered… until I die I will be in the recovery process.”
Throughout the month of September, Canadians in recovery will join with friends and family to raise awareness at a series of rallies.
A recovery day rally will be held in Calgary at Olympic Plaza on September 13.