At first glance, Rachel Degraw looks like any other young professional. For nearly nine years, the image of a successful entrepreneur was one she struggled to maintain.
“I felt as though I was hiding something incredibly, incredibly painful that so many others were suffering from,” Degraw said. “It grabbed me, it gripped me and before I knew it, I couldn’t live without it.”
It was opiates. At first, Tylenol 3 with codeine, before she moved on to stronger drugs.
“I became dependent on them for back pain, but also for emotional pain and at the end of it, doctors would no longer prescribe them for me,” Degraw said. “So I ended up on the Downtown Eastside streets.”
Wearing a hoodie and dark sunglasses to mask her appearance, Degraw says she would leave boardroom meetings to venture downtown and purchase what she felt she needed. She says the shame was often overwhelming.
“There seems to be an idea that people are enjoying themselves on opiates,” Degraw says, adding that isn’t the case for her and others like her.
She is hopeful that sharing her story could affect change.
“My addictions came from the pad of a doctor. We need to really look at really helping people before they get deep into addiction.”
According to a recent US Center for Disease control report, the longer the opiate prescription, the higher the risk of addiction.
Advocates have long since been pushing for a comprehensive approach to pain management, one that keeps pain sufferers from becoming reliant on drugs. In a letter to B.C.’s health minister, Pain BC lobbies the province to take a “comprehensive, integrated approach” to those dealing with pain.
For those already hooked on a substance, addictions expert Dr. Gabor Maté says doctors need more training and the system has to be better equipped.
“The addiction is a big problem in itself, but it’s a symptom of a deep, deeper inner wound and it’s that deeper trauma that we have to heal if we want to help people really heal their addiction,” Maté said.
Degraw has been clean for a year. She says there are too many like her who continue to struggle.
“I’d like to see change in policy. I’d like to see change in the way others see people that suffer from the disease of addiction.”