Lona, 43, began drinking alcohol excessively when she was just 11 years old while spending the weekend drinking with her father. She realized even at that young age that alcohol would take away the pain of a childhood filled with mental, sexual, and physical abuse at the hands of her stepfathers. Making matters more complicated, she realized at a young age that she was gay, something that was not readily accepted in the small towns in North Carolina and Alabama where she grew up. When she was 14, she discovered opioids in her grandmother’s medicine cabinet and “found something that could take every wrong in your life and make it tolerable. I found out what happiness and joy was.”
“There’s a big difference between someone who gives you medication and someone who wants to cure you.”
— Lona Currie
Now, Lona is a fierce advocate for the use of medications for treatment paired with counseling to treat her opioid use disorder. She knows firsthand that taking a medication alone without counseling does little to address her underlying causes of addiction. “People think just the medicine will do the job, but the rest is in the head.”
In Lona’s case, depression and a childhood filled with physical and emotional abuse fueled her disorder, one that could not be adequately addressed until she began a regimen of methadone paired with counseling. “There’s a big difference between someone who gives you medication and someone who wants to cure you,” Lona says.
But the road Lona had to take before finding a treatment that worked for her was challenging.
After a stint in the Army, Lona suffered an undiagnosed stomach condition and was a frequent visitor to emergency rooms and clinics. Soon, she was identified as someone who was misusing opioids, and clinicians refused to prescribe her more, so in an effort to stop the pain she turned to black tar heroin. Though she took any drug she could get her hands on-cocaine, heroin, marijuana-after 1996, it was all opioids, and as often as possible. She overdosed three times, and was revived by Narcan each time, and once spent a week in a coma.
“I was losing people I loved and I was angry it wasn’t me,” she says. “There’s nothing positive in the life” of a person with an opioid addiction.
Each time she sought treatment, which she did numerous times, she faced the stigma that so many of those addicted to opioids face. “When you’re addicted, it’s important to tell the truth,” she says. “But you’re not honest because you are treated so badly when you do tell the truth.” She’d tried methadone alone, and it worked-for a while. When she relapsed that last time for nine months, it changed her life.
“I got to a place where I said, ‘I just don’t want to do this anymore.'”
That’s when she found the program she is still in today and credits it for saving her life. Her wife, who also has an opioid use disorder, has been in recovery one and a half years. While Lona has found methadone to be most effective for her, her wife has found success with buprenorphine to treat her opioid use disorder.
Now, even small things are huge victories: holding a steady job, creating a budget, paying bills. “I learned how strong I am,” she says.