Christien Boyer has a special relationship with her adopted son, Elijah. He lives in Indiana, so they keep in touch by phone. Elijah often calls his mom in Lacomb during his hour-and-15-minute-commute to talk about work and the grandkids.
“Elijah has a way of telling stories that are hilarious,” Christien said. “He’s a joy to talk to.”
It was about three years ago that Elijah first caught his mom’s attention with a pointed question.
“How long has it been since you took your meds?” Elijah asked.
“I just took them,” Christien said.
“I’ll make this short and I’ll talk to you later,” Elijah said.
The next time he called, Elijah repeated the question.
“Elijah, why do you ask me that?” Christien replied.
“It’s because you don’t make sense when you’ve taken your pain medication,” Elijah said.
Christien was surprised by what Elijah said. But she denied there was anything wrong.
Looking back, “That’s how far I was into it,” Christien said.
Christien was prescribed an opioid pain medication for her chest pain in 2006. At first, it helped relieve the symptoms. But soon, it stopped working.
“I guess it was because my body got used to a certain amount and my mind would say, you need more,” she said. “When I went to my previous physician, I would let him know it wasn’t working, and he would up the dosage.”
There was a pass-out episode, and she lost her driver’s license. By the time she met her new physician in April 2013, Christien was taking 100mg of morphine three times a day. That is seven to 10 times what a person would be given immediately after major surgery.
In the time since Christien was first prescribed pain medication, the Oregon Medical Board has advised that taking high-dose opioid medication dramatically increases the risk of death from overdose. During that first visit, Nathan Mason, MD, of Sweet Home Family Medicine, shared his assessment with Christien and her husband.
“What you are doing is unsafe,” Mason said. “This does not make sense. This is not the way we need to go.”
Mason recommended they begin to reduce Christien’s pain medication.
Christien was wary of the plan to reduce the morphine, but she agreed to go along with it.
“I wanted to live a little longer,” she said.
Even though they had just met, Christien trusted her new doctor.
“It’s hard when there’s so much personal stuff involved,” she said.
Each time she saw him, Mason would suggest cutting back a little more.
“I was afraid,” she said. “Dr. Mason would hold my hand and say, ‘It’s OK.’ That would make me want to try even more.”
Over a period of two years, Christien was able to take less and less morphine. She also began to see a counselor and attend a support group.
“It didn’t sink in what I had done to myself until I was almost off the meds,” Christien said.
“I realized I was an addict.”
Christien set a goal to drive again. To get her license back, she would need to be completely off the pain medication.
“I needed to get this done. I needed to participate in life whole-hearted,” she said.
She leaned on her faith, friends and family, including her husband, Michael, and other sons Zachary and Jacob. They offered encouragement in healing and didn’t nag or make her feel bad.
Even after she quit, there was a period of time when she would constantly think about taking more pills. But she didn’t falter.
“It’s been a pride thing with me that I don’t slip back into that old habit,” she said.
Christien enjoys having “regular” conversations with her husband, knowing that it’s not the medication talking. She can go places and not have to put on a front.
“I have a clear mind and a healthy respect for having a clear mind,” Christien said.
During her recovery, Elijah called every week to see how she was doing and to tell her stories to make her laugh.
“Elijah has always been able to speak the truth,” she said. “He is so proud of me.”