Enlarge this image Maria Fabrizio for NPR
Jon McHann, 56, got started on prescription opioids the way a lot of adults in the U.S. did: he was in pain following an accident. In his case, it was a fall.
“I hit my tailbone just right, and created a severe bulging disc” that required surgery, McHann says.
McHann, who lives in Smithville, Tenn., expected to make a full recovery and go back to work as a heavy haul truck driver. But 10 years after his accident, he’s still at home.
“After the surgery the pain was just excruciating,” McHann recalls. “I was unable to function.” His spinal problems turned out to be more complicated and hard to treat. And he developed other health problems, too. He had several more surgical procedures for his back, but he got no relief. He says on days when his pain is through the roof, “I can’t open my eyes because I know if I blink it’s going to hurt.”
His doctor prescribed methadone, a powerful opioid. He stayed on the drug for seven years.
“It helped immensely, it brought my pain down to a 5 or