January 9, 2018 | By: Olivia Ramirez

Alex Elswick is earning his doctorate degree at the University of Kentucky. He's the founder of a nonprofit organization and a leader in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Elswick is also in long-term recovery from an opioid use disorder.

Like it does for so many, Elswick's opioid use disorder began with a prescription. After having his wisdom teeth removed, he was prescribed five days of pain medication. Unfortunately, complications with recovery from the surgery led to second five-day prescription for opioids. After those 10 days, when the prescription ran out, Elswick began to feel "bad," a feeling he says he can't fully describe and a person would only understand if they've experienced it. A combination of withdrawal symptoms, lethargy, anxiety and the belief that taking more opioids would take those feelings away led Elswick into active addiction that lasted from age 18 to 22.

In those four years, Elswick and his family worked to help him achieve sobriety. After sharing with his parents that he had a problem, he moved back home and commuted to college. But, changing his environment didn't change his physical dependence on opioids. Opioid use disorder is a chronic brain disease, that doesn't necessarily go away when pills become scarce. The family tried rehabilitation facilities with stays ranging from seven to 30 days. Unfortunately, their efforts were unsuccessful at that stage of his addiction.

For the entire UKnow release, click here.


Olivia Ramirez, olivia.mccoy1@uky.edu; 859-257-1076