Local lady tells her addiction story on TV

JC AMBERLYN/Miner
Leanna Long credits her family's spirituality with helping her cope with an addiction to narcotic pain medication.
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JC AMBERLYN/Miner Leanna Long credits her family's spirituality with helping her cope with an addiction to narcotic pain medication. <a href="http://kingmandailyminer.com/Formlayout.asp?formcall=userform&form=20">Click here to purchase this photo</a>

KINGMAN - Leanna Long says she told her story of pain pill addiction because she didn't want to hide from it anymore.

"At first I said no," the 27-year-old mother of two said.

"This was the most humiliating, humbling experience of my life and you want me to share that on television?"

Long said she knew she made the right decision after her story aired and she began receiving dozens of messages on Myspace and Facebook from people who related to her experience with pain medication.

"I'm a success story in this town," she said.

"I did something about it. You can, too."

Long's story has been airing since mid-January on the E! Entertainment cable channel as part of a documentary-style report on being addicted to pain pills.

The Kingman native was contacted by the show's producers after she began researching ways to end her dependence on pain medication she had been prescribed after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

Camera crews followed her journey from her home in Kingman to a rapid detox facility in Long Beach last fall. She hasn't used pain medication since undergoing the controversial procedure.

Long's story of addiction starts almost four years ago, when the former competitive gymnast began experiencing numbness in her right leg.

She attributed the pain to shin splints she had when she was younger. It was harder to ignore the other symptoms that followed. "I woke up one morning feeling like I was drunk," Long said. "My equilibrium was gone and I was seeing double."

An MRI showed numerous lesions on her spine and brain and she was diagnosed with MS.

Long was 23, with a newborn baby and in the middle of a divorce. "My life just crumbled," she said.

MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. Long was diagnosed with a regressive form of the disorder, meaning that she would experience symptoms that would then go into remission. She began receiving shots to suppress her immune system so her body would stop attacking itself. Her symptoms ranged from double vision, to feeling like she had the flu, to intense pain in her legs.

"It wasn't like it was just some small pain my finger," she said. "I have to use my legs all the time. With every step, it was throbbing and throbbing."

Long's doctor started her on a low dose of Vicodin for the pain, but as with most narcotic pain medication users, Long found herself becoming tolerant and had to increase her dosage.

To make matters worse, Long was given a secondary diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, which her doctors told her was opiate-induced, meaning that the same medication she was taking to ease her pain was now also causing it.

"The body tricks itself into thinking it's in pain to get the medicine, so I'd stub toe, and the next day, my whole leg would hurt."

Long's doctor referred her to a Mayo Clinic study in Scottsdale where she continues to be treated by a number of specialists.

Her doctor also referred her to a pain medication specialist. Within nine months, she was on Fentanyl, a pain medicine used for cancer patients that's 100 times stronger than morphine.

That was in March 2009. It didn't take long for the Fentanyl to completely take over her life, she said. She was also just tired of having to need medication to function and was worried that the pain medication was only aggravating her Fibromyalgia symptoms.

"I needed to find out if it was real pain. I needed to know if this was how my life was going to be," she said.

Long tried to wean herself from the medication, but her withdrawal sent her into seizures that frightened her family. Someone mentioned a rapid detox program and she phoned a facility in California, but the $20,000 cost scared her away.

At the same time Long was researching programs, her boyfriend, Kingman Police Officer Timothy Sparr, was shot in the line of duty while responding to a domestic violence incident. He was struck in the arm by the same bullet that killed a 26-year-old mother and probation officer. Long, who knew that Sparr was responding to the call, was listening on the police scanner when she heard that he'd been shot.

While Long was undergoing detox, Sparr developed his own addiction to pain medication prescribed to him as a result of being shot. He was fired from the police department in December after allegations surfaced that he was using the medication while on duty. Long said that she was unaware of what Sparr was going through because she was going through her own detox at the time.

While Sparr dealt with his own issues, the cable television channel was able to negotiate a stay for Long at the rapid detox facility. In October, a three-man crew came to Kingman to interview her and film her experience while undergoing the Waismann Method, a controversial form of rapid opiate detox. Long's father, a pastor at Calvary Chapel, also accompanied her on the trip to the facility in Long Beach.

Cameras captured the procedure, which is said to condense the entire withdrawal process in less than an hour. Long has no memory of the convulsions, constant sneezing and other withdrawal symptoms that were later aired on television. "I went to bed, woke up and I was clean," she said.

The procedure was followed by weeks of therapy at several sober living facilities. The Waismann Method has been criticized by some in the medical community, but Long said she's proof that it works. She's been clean ever since. "They can get you clean," she said. "What you do from there is up to you."

Long's story first aired Jan. 13. Since then, she's received messages from people across the globe who say they can relate to her story and want to learn from her experience. "I've become people's counselor," she said. Long and Sparr broke up several months ago but remain on good terms. The former officer is now employed doing metal fabrication work at TNC Machine shop. He is also free of pain medication and says he is happy and enjoying spending more time with his kids.

Long credits her support system - including Sparr, her family and her congregation at Calvary Chapel - with helping her survive her experience. "It's easy to do something when you have all these people backing you up," she said.

She was overwhelmed when she first returned home from detox, but she's excited about the future. She has already obtained her LPN certification and is currently toying with the idea of going to law school.

Long's Fibromyalgia symptoms have disappeared, and while her MS is under control, the 27-year-old still finds herself struggling to come to terms with the condition she said feels like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon where a piano is suspended over a cliff by a rope.

"I feel like I have a piano over my head and one of these days the rope is going to break and I'm going to be in a wheelchair," she said.

But Long also knows that if she beat her addiction, she can handle anything. "I don't want to go back to where I was," she said. "It puts life into perspective."