The first time Dr. Peter Grinspoon experimented with Vicodin was with a fellow medical student at Harvard.
“It said, 'Careful: Causes extreme euphoria,' ” Grinspoon said. “And once we read that we were sort of destined to try it.”
Then, as a primary-care physician based in Boston, Grinspoon tried to replicate the euphoria the drug indeed delivered, at first, during nine years of regular drug use. He ultimately resorted to writing prescriptions under a false name to feed his habit. It all came to a head in February 2005 when law enforcement agents came to his office and arrested him for fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance.
Grinspoon spent the next two years on probation and out of work. His medical license was suspended and only reinstated after he completed a 90-day treatment program under the oversight of a state physician health program.
The growing number of Americans with a friend, family member or neighbor affected by heroin or prescription opioid abuse has inspired lawmakers and law enforcement officials to move toward treatment and away from punitive measures such as incarceration. It is an approach some are concerned healthcare providers have not fully embraced when they deal with substance abuse in their ranks.
Although Grinspoon credits the treatment program for his recovery, he said state programs still unnecessarily punish physicians while they're trying to get help. In his case, the medical board took disciplinary action against him when he failed two drug tests in the gap between enrolling in the program and starting treatment.
“The problem is you don't go immediately from addiction to recovery,” said Grinspoon, who now counsels other doctors about their substance abuse.
Grinspoon wrote about his experience with drug addiction in the new book Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts His Addiction.