Former Addict Shares Story of Hope and Recovery

Content Warning: This story discusses drug use, addiction and suicide. This article also discusses addiction treatment programmes. These are intended for educational and informative purposes only and are not intended to serve as medical or professional advice. You should consult your physician or other health care professional before starting any programme to determine if it is right for your unique needs.

(Listen to the full interview below:)



Cam was 14-years-old when he tried morphine for the first time. His mother had been diagnosed with cancer when he was 12 and she had a shoebox full of medicine that she had never taken despite her doctor prescribing it for her pain.

“I never planned to be a junkie or a user.”

“I went in the cupboard one day and found a shoebox full of morphine pills -  a friend of mine's brother was into them - so, I took a handful. Me and my mate took a handful.”

Cam took too much morphine that day and became sick, throwing up constantly, “a real horrible experience.” He later bumped into his brother’s mate who was into heroin and told him that his drug of choice was horrible and the guy offered to show Cam how to use it properly.

“I just turned 15 I think at that stage maybe late 14. I remember him - I had a fear of needles and we're in the toilet. I was sitting on the toilet seat. He was standing in the doorway, and I had just put my arm out and I was looking away.”

“I just wanted it done, and he said, mate, it's already done. Afterwards he just looked down at me and said, '’Oh, you like it, eh?’ And I just sat there. I felt normal. I just felt like how I should feel. Like just a warm, comforting feeling you know?”

It was never about the thrill for Cam though, it was about feeling normal or rather, the absence of pain.

“They call it mother's milk and it is like that. It's just the absence of bad, it's not a high.”

Cam’s mother’s death from cancer when he was 18 was the trigger for a ‘massive depression’ and an event that locked in the addiction for him. During this time, Cam also attempted suicide.

“I just wanted to see Mum. She was everything to me and it sort of locked my addiction in and I just used that instead of grieving - going through grieving counselling - I just used heroin.”

From the age of 15 to 28, Cam was a habitual user of opiates.

“It was actually morphine sulfate. And we used to turn it into heroin, freebase heroin, which is diamorphine - as the real name for heroin.”

Portrayals of heroin addiction often show users falling asleep or ‘going on the nod’  as a symptom of people taking too high a dose. Cam says this portrayal can be a misconception. Throughout his addiction, Cam always had a measured dose which meant that, for the most part, he was functioning as a normal person would - maintaining his career and business.  

Having started work as an apprentice in Auckland at the young age of 15, Cam owned his own construction business not long after entering the workforce.

“I had a business, I had seven staff throughout my addiction. If you have the right amount, you can function totally normally.”

While he says he was able to function, the wheels started to fall off once the financial and health effects of the addiction started to rear its head.

During the early nineties, at the height of Cam’s addiction, he was spending roughly $700 a week purchasing drugs. A heavy drinker at the time, he also describes downing two bottles of 40-ounce whiskey before going out to hit the nightclubs.

“None of that was sustainable. There's no way that you can actually, for one, have enough money to do that, to live that life. 

“I couldn't earn that money. So I was wheeling and dealing. I couldn't go to work because I was trying to earn more than I was actually getting at work, even though it was good money - but I needed more than that.”

Not only was Cam’s lifestyle affecting his business, the side effects of his addiction were having a huge impact on his physical health. The withdrawals he experienced when he was not using heroin became a huge part of his drive to continue spending more money on drugs just to keep the sickness at bay.

“In the end it was costing me $300 a day just to get rid of the withdrawals and not even get high.”

“Heroin is different from methamphetamine and LSD and stuff and the fact that it's physically addictive - you can't do without it.

“It's not until you've been an opiate addict that you know what real addiction is.

“Withdrawal is like the worst food poisoning you've ever had. Every second seems like an hour, and, you know, you've got days of the comedown and you just feel like you can't do it. It's just unbearable. It's like you're turning inside out.”

By the time Cam reached his mid-twenties he knew he had both a psychological and physical addiction and he began looking for ways to ‘get off the ship’ after what he describes as ‘hitting rock bottom.’

“The money was one thing, but I could have dealt with that. It was the fact that I was running out of veins and it would take me three hours to have a shot. I'd be in the bath with hot water because it makes your veins swell.”

“I'd shot into my neck, my jugular vein. Both of them collapsed. Both of those and pretty much every single vein in my body, even below my waists, you know, crotch, eyelids, forehead. I used every vein.”

“It became unbearable. I'd just be sitting there crying in the corner of the bathroom covered in blood and holes. And I was just over it. I was sick of being sick.”

Cam had hit rock bottom and was highly motivated to make a change. He’d seen a documentary about a detox treatment overseas that would get rid of the physical addiction but knew he would have to get on the local methadone program first to deal with the psychological addiction - as they needed to be dealt with separately.

He rang the local clinic everyday for six months until the nurse on the other end of the line one day said that he was in luck due to a cancellation.

“I ran and got on the methadone and I used it properly. I drank it every day.”

It wasn’t plain sailing though, Cam had also been diagnosed with hepatitis C - a common illness among heroin users with around 99% of people using intravenous drugs contracting the illness. The illness, along with his drinking and opiate use had led to a ‘bad liver’ and his doctor told him that he had 12 years to live if he didn’t stop.

“I was pretty sick, sicker than I let on. I knew it was a death sentence because there was no cure for it.”

“I got on the methadone and I came down to Raglan to tell a friend that I had 12 years to live and I never left.”

“I changed my life - stayed away from all the addicts and that got rid of the psychological addiction. After two years of staying away from triggers your brain can actually free itself from the want, the need, the psychological addiction of it.” 

“But I was still physically addicted to methadone.”

While he credits the methadone programme for allowing him to start changing his life, Cam describes it as having ‘liquid handcuffs’.

“You can't plan anything. You can't go on holiday because you've always got to go to the chemist so they can observe you consuming the dose - even after 14 years I still had to go to the chemist twice a week.”

Cam received some good news a couple of years before the 12 years was up, a cure had been discovered for hepatitis C and he was chosen to go on the trial treatment - a chemotherapy programme that eventually rid his body of the illness.

This was a game changer for Cam, allowing him to get work at the Zoo where he became a giraffe and zebra keeper. His newfound lease on life motivated him to address his methadone addiction as well - looking to a groundbreaking treatment called ultra rapid opioid detoxification under general anesthetic.

Put simply, the treatment rapidly detoxifies your body using a drug often referred to as Narcan. While under general anesthetic, the drug strips your body of opiates, putting you into physical withdrawal immediately.

Due to its controversial nature, the treatment is only offered in certain countries and costs around $25,000. At the age of 46, and with the help of a philanthropic benefactor, Cam travelled to Serbia to undergo the treatment.

Describing the procedure as ‘violent’ he says “they pump your body full of naltrexone and you react and go into full physical withdrawal. And they have to hold you down. You pee yourself, you shit yourself, you vomit. You convulse. It’s all on.”

The procedure freed Cam of his physical addiction to methadone but he also 

recognises that addictions aren’t just physical, explaining that another aspect of the treatment available in Serbia is regression therapy.

“There's two parts to it in Serbia and I didn't go on one part of the treatment, which was an extra cost, but they actually cure addiction, which is a big, big, statement. They actually use regression therapy to take you back to the trauma that they think caused your addiction.”

Following Cam’s journey for treatment, he is now able to live a relatively normal life free of the physical addiction he used to suffer, but he says he is still constantly working on getting better.

“I'm a work in progress, so I don't mean to preach. I'm not saying that I'm above anyone else, that I'm an angel or anything like that, and I still am an addict. You know, I have an addictive personality. Even if I'm drug free for 30 years, I will still be an addict.” 

“I’m not telling anyone to use or not use drugs, who am I to tell anyone what to do. I’m just telling my story.”

Having stopped using opiates at the age of 28, Cam is happy to talk about his journey to recovery and shine a light on opioid addiction so people don’t have to suffer in silence. Cam also hopes his story can disperse some of the misconceptions around addiction and give hope to those who feel hopeless. 

“No one takes drugs to become a drug addict, people take drugs to get high. People get prescribed morphine for a broken leg and all of a sudden they're an addict. And it's not their fault. No one.” 

“Don't give up. There is hope and hope is real, and I'm proof that the hope is real. I've been to the bottom. I've been there.”

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

Lifeline 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE).

Youthline 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email or online chat.

Samaritans 0800 726 666.

Community Alcohol and Drugs Service (CADS) Monday to Friday, 8am to 4.30pm. Phone: 07 834 6902

Mental Health Crisis Assessment and Treatment Service. Available 24/7. Phone: 0800 50 50 50

Raglan Community House has a Narcotics Anonymous support group running every Monday from 7pm

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