Burn survivor credits Utah hospital for saving him from opioid dependence

WASHINGTON TERRACE, Weber County — Life today isn’t at all the way J.B. Griggs likely imagined it more than 20 years ago.

In 1998, he was injured on the job while operating a tractor. Heated hydraulic oil spewed onto him, igniting and ultimately burned about 80 percent of his body.

Griggs spent months in intensive care, and doctors treated the intense pain with morphine. 125 surgeries later, Griggs said his dependence on the opioid grew into him taking dosages, adding up to 540 milligrams a day.

“Sometimes you just feel like you’re existing, not living,” Griggs explained.

Then in November 2018, he said his doctor told him that he no longer felt he could legally prescribe doses that high. Griggs would somehow have to come down and he had about three weeks to do it.

“I felt as though I was a man waiting to be executed,” Griggs said. “That’s all I felt like I had left to live because I saw no way out.”

Griggs said because of his unique needs and high dependency, he couldn’t find a clinic to help him through the withdrawals. As a result of his injuries, Griggs overheats easily, he has specific climate needs, and he was taking additional medication for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Nobody would take me,” Griggs said. “I thought going into detox, I wouldn’t survive, because of the intense pain from coming off all the med(ications).”

With the help of his brother, Griggs soon left Arizona to check in at Ogden Regional Medical Center. Despite the unusual challenges, addictionologist Nadya Wayment decided she needed to help somehow.

“His medical complexities made a big, big difference,” Wayment explained. “It’s very, very important to be in medicine for the right reasons. The right reason is to be there for the patient’s help.”

In just eight days, Griggs endured the intense withdrawals, with the help of suboxone, a pain killer that is designed to help combat morphine withdrawals.

“It was excruciating pain,” Griggs said.

Still, he came out better and he says his life has changed.

“I feel alive again. I feel like I’ve been reborn,” Griggs said. “I’m on 20 milligrams of suboxone and my pain level is about a five.”

Just before, Griggs says his pain level was always around a seven or eight on a scale of one to ten. Now, he wants to get out more, to visit with burn unit support groups, and visit his grandchildren.

“In my eyes, he will always remain a hero because to go through such a very complicated detox took a lot of courage,” Wayment said. “Most of our detox cases are absolutely not even close in complexity of J.B.’s.”

Both Griggs and Wayment added that changes need to be made so that others don’t end up in similar situations.

“We need more of this collaboration between the primary care physician, between us addictionologists and between people who are opioid-dependent to actually end this opioid crisis in our country,” Wayment said. “When the laws are put in and they’re put in for the right reasons, there is always that certain percentage of population that is going to be kind of not seen through the general law.”

Griggs added that as hard as it is, patients need to do their part too.

“A victim is someone who allows whatever has happened to them dictate how they live the rest of their life. A survivor does not,” he said.

Photos

Mike Anderson