HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Ninety percent of patients who walk into a physician's office with pain, walk out with a prescription. But what happens when a medication becomes an addiction?
Elizabeth Barnes has seen the darker side of pain killers.
She lived the American dream. She was a wife, mother, and owner of a multi-million dollar business. Then, she lost it all.
Barnes says, "The first thing I thought was, 'I'm not an addict. I'm not on the street and buying them and doing them illegally.'"
But Barnes spent 11 years taking powerful prescriptions.
"OxyContin, oxycodone, dalotta, all of them. F patches," she said. "I tried it all."
Doctors prescribed them after a life-saving spinal surgery left her in constant pain.
"My need for more and more just kept growing," Barnes says.
She took 45,000 milligrams a day at a cost of $100,000 a month.
"I became numb," she said. "I didn't even realize that life was passing me right by."
Her $30 million business crumbled.
During the ordeal, Barnes says her kids lost a mother and her husband lost his wife.
Dr. James Flowers, Pain Recovery Program Director at Memorial Hermann PaRC, said, "She was experiencing something called hyperalgesia, where we take so much pain medication, that our brain actually begins to believe that our body is in more pain than it's actually in."
Flowers helped Barnes overcome her addiction.
"When a patient comes back to you over and over and over again and says, 'I'm still hurting, I'm still hurting, I'm still hurting,' and there's nowhere to send the patient, what does that physician do? Write a prescription," Flowers said.
These days, Flowers helps Barnes manage her pain through deep breathing, neurolumen - a pain-reducing device, yoga, and acupuncture. The results, she says, are life-changing.
"I won't say I've been pain-free, but the pain I've got now, I'm taking ibuprofen and Tylenol. That's all I'm taking. To me, that's a miracle," Barnes said.
Dr. Flowers says our bodies should heal from pain in 90 days. Anyone taking medication longer than that should see a pain or addiction specialist.
For more drug-free pain alternatives and other resources, go to this recent story "Drug-Free Ways to Fight Pain."