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Behavioral health patient celebrates 14 months of sobriety

November 27, 2018

Shalu Gugnani, Medical Director of Addiction Services at NCH wishes Jon P. a Happy Thanksgiving at a follow-up visit.

Jon P. was raised in an affluent suburb of Detroit with loving parents and siblings. He played sports and did well in school, but in his teens he started taking pharmaceuticals, including opioids.

“I grew up learning to fear heroin, but painkillers seemed safe,” Jon says. “I’ve since learned that basically they’re the same thing.”

After graduating high school in Nebraska where he’d gotten clean, Jon returned to Detroit and drugs grabbed ahold again.

“I was smoking a lot of weed, drinking occasionally and taking painkillers when they were around,” he says. “I didn’t consider myself an addict at the time.”

Using to excess

“Whenever I would drink, I would drink to the point of blacking out,” Jon says, adding that he once woke up in an emergency room under a false identity and wearing restraints with no idea about what had happened. “My use was always toward the extreme side of things.”

Jon bounced between sobriety and drug use for the next few years. Along the way, he developed an affinity for oxycodone, a highly addictive pain medication. At a time in his life when he was struggling with feeling purposeless, he gained access to heroin.

“I fell in love with it,” he says. “I started snorting it and in less than a year I was shooting it. For the next 10 years, I was a heroin addict.”

Unlike most addicts, Jon was able to keep his job, taking four FMLA leaves to try to get sober. He got a DUI at one point and had to bike to work 25 miles.

“Somehow I always managed to do my job and do it well, even though my physical appearance and hygiene went way down and my attendance went down,” he recalls.

No hope

Jon went through detox several times at other hospitals and inpatient treatment facilities. He recalls his best outcome: staying clean for 46 days.

“I came out of there on buprenorphine-naloxone,” Jon says. “My intention was to not be on anything. I moved in with my parents and within a couple weeks I was using again, just as bad as I was before.”

He finally resolved himself to the fact that he would die a heroin addict. Because he had a much younger sibling, his parents asked him to move out. He ended up living in his car for the next four years.

“There were times when I would get loans from my drug dealer,” Jon says. “He would charge me additional fees. I would get my paycheck owing him almost $1,000. It was an endless cycle.”

Turning point

Jon’s father said to him, “I love you, but I’m waiting for the phone call that you’re going to be dead.” He then asked Jon if he would pray, even though he knew his son was agnostic.

“I said what I think is called ‘The Prayer of the Skeptic,’ and a month or two later things just kind of fell into place,” Jon recalls. “I decided to get treatment. I stumbled upon NCH and went in for an assessment. I was referred to Linden Oaks in Naperville for detox and then returned and entered NCH’s Residential Treatment Program.”

Jon was admitted in September of 2017. While there, he worked with NCH Addictionologist Shalu Gugnani, M.D., Medical Director of Addiction Services. Dr. Gugnani, along with a team of counselors, helped Jon use a variety of tools to get sober.

“I’m very grateful to NCH and its staff,” Jon says, adding that he was born at NCH 35 years ago, and then “reborn” at NCH last year. “They helped me and they did so in a genuine, selfless and caring manner. I felt like they actually wanted to help me and not just get paid.”

The program

Addiction is attacked from many angles at NCH – from behavioral, individual and group therapy to step- down medications, yoga and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The program is completely voluntary, but it’s difficult for patients to enter the door and ask for help, according to Dr. Gugnani, who said Jon was transparent about his addiction and motivated to stop using.

“I said to him, ‘No matter how terrible you feel now, I promise it will get better,’” Dr. Gugnani says. “I believed in his honesty as much as he believed what I was saying. It made for a great patient-provider partnership.”

After five months in the program, Jon, now 35, transitioned to a recovery home where he resides today. He has follow-up visits with Dr. Gugnani to receive the support he needs and he has goals for the future, like furthering his education. Despite a fear of public speaking, he has shared his story with high schools, business groups and recovering patients at NCH.

“I really wanted to give a face to this,” Jon says. “I’m hoping to help someone who is in a similar position to mine or a family member who is in a situation like I was to show them that there is a way out, that there is hope, that there is the possibility of recovery.”

A family disease

Substance use disorder is a disease that affects the whole family. One of the best outcomes is when patients can gain sobriety and be a part of their family again.

“Life is different for Jon’s family today,” Dr. Gugnani explains. “They know the potential for relapse is always there, but they’re hopeful; they have their son back and they don’t have to wonder at night if they’re going to get that phone call. It’s the best part of what we do, and I’m remarkably proud of Jon.”

Need help or know someone who does? Call Linden Oaks at NCH at 847-HEALING. NCH now partners with the Community Addiction and Recovery Effort (CARE) Program to help residents of Arlington Heights get treatment for opioid use disorder and addiction. If cost is a barrier to treatment, please call the Village of Arlington Heights Social Services Division at 847-368-5792.

Opioid Epidemic by the Numbers

  • An average of 174 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose.
  • Circumstances have gotten worse due to the emergence of synthetic opioids like fentanyl mixed with other illegal opioids like heroin, without the user’s knowledge.

In 2016:

  • 116 people died each day from opioid-related drug overdoses
  • 11.5 million people misused prescription opioids
  • 42,249 peopled died from overdosing on opioids
  • 170,000 people used heroin for the first time