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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

Bioethicist Recalls Struggle With Getting Off Pain Medication

Associated Press

After a motorcycle accident and the surgeries that followed, Travis Rieder became addicted to pain medications. Rieder, director of the Master of Bioethics degree program at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, talks about the agonizing process of weaning himself off the drugs. 

He joins Think guest host Courtney Collins to discuss his new book is called “In Pain: A Bioethicist's Personal Struggle With Opioids."

Reider recalls the accident which took place on Memorial Day weekend in 2015.

"I had just bought a new motorcycle to celebrate my shiny new faculty job at Johns Hopkins so I headed out with a friend of mine...," Reider says. "I got about three blocks from home, and a young guy in a van blew a stop sign and t-boned me, hit me squarely on the left side."

Right away, Reider felt an intense pain in his foot. His first night in the hospital, he says he felt "indescribable pain" and was given a low dose of oxycodone every four hours, as well as an IV of fentanyl every four hours. Reider had five surgeries to try and salvage his foot over the course of about four weeks at three different hospitals.

Once he was home, doctors eventually recommended that Reider taper off his pain medications. He says the process of weaning himself off the drugs was excruciating. His physical and mental health took a hit, as he grappled with flu-like symptoms and depression.

"For me, by far, the worst part was the depression because it's not something I've had to deal with, and so I didn't understand what was happening," Reider says. "The symptoms got worse and the depression really started to eat away at me."

He got to the point where he put a bottle of pills next to his bed one night, assuming he might need to take one.

"It just so happens that I fell asleep that night before I took anything, and I kind of broke through the worst of the symptoms," he says. "I slept for about six hours, and when I woke up, I certainly didn't feel objectively good, but I thought, 'Ok, I'm going to survive this.'"

Syeda Hasan is the Elections Editor and Reporter at KERA. Before moving into that role, she covered mental health at the station. A Houston native, her journalism career has taken her to public radio newsrooms around Texas.