“Hi, I’m Peter and I’m an addict.” Doctor Peter Grinspoon, Harvard Grad, physician, and author of “Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts His Addiction” introduced himself to his audience at Thursday, February 18, 2016’s book reading hosted by the Boston Public Library.
Walking into the library I approached an older, English librarian and asked about the whereabouts of the book reading. She gave me instructions and I was on my way. I walked through a small corridor and past the open atrium area and proceeded into the next building. Entering the first door to my right, per the instructions of the librarian, I entered a warm and inviting room. Sky-high ceilings with large, simple chandeliers lighting the length of the room created an open and comfortable setting. I chose a seat and waited for the event to begin. People were filing in and easily filled a majority of the room. I heard murmurs and discussion throughout the room and observed as Dr. Grinspoon and members of his family spoke with friends and fans alike until 6:00 when the event was to begin.
At 6:00 all attendees were seated. Grinspoon’s family, wife and children included, were front and center showing immense support for their accomplished and beloved family member. Dr. Grinspoon introduced himself as an addict, a still admittedly difficult statement to make after 9 years clean, although he has been struggling with his opiate addiction for 15 years.
The readings came in three parts and began with the introduction to how Grinspoon had to face his addiction head on. He was not given much choice to get clean, one day having been surprisingly greeted by a Boston Police officer and a DEA agent in his office. Grinspoon was facing three felony counts of writing fraudulent prescriptions. After reading and giving the audience a taste of his gripping narrative chronicling the events that occurred once being caught, Grinspoon started discussing the opiate epidemic.
The opiate epidemic has lead to the heroin epidemic that is sweeping the nation. What was once thought to be an inner city problem has made its way into middle class and upper middle class areas and regions. Doctors nationwide are encouraged by pharmaceutical companies to prescribe opiates to patients. The euphoric effects of these drugs is a feeling that many people end up attempting to chase. Opiates change to the cheaper drug heroin and has evolved these addictions to an epidemic of drug use and overdosing. Overdosing causes an average of 100 deaths per day in America and kills more people than car crashes. Shocking statistics such as the fact that 9% of the general population have serious addictions to drugs and alcohol is unfortunate to think about, however an astonishing fact is that 15% of physicians suffer from addictions with drugs and alcohol. The ease of access and unlimited refills that physicians can grant themselves to opiates combined with the stress of a job like this greatly increases their susceptibility to addiction. Grinspoon provides a call to action and asks how we can fix this epidemic. He noted three main components that worked to create this epidemic.
- The way pharmaceutical companies advertise their products. Pharmaceutical companies work for profits and often minimize the addictive components to opiate use.
- Doctors mindlessly went along with this. They acted as sheep and were complacent in prescribing these drugs to patients.
- The “War on Drugs” treats addicts as criminals rather than as people who have developed legitimate problems.
- There is no other disease in the world where they punish you instead of treating you.
In the second passage that Grinspoon read from, he details his struggle with denial. Even in his Q&A session as part of one of his responses, Grinspoon made the age old, however classic “dad joke” that “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.” At the beginning of his addiction, he believed he had nothing in common with the addict patients that he was treating who came in due to drug and alcohol related issues. Dissociating from these people made it that much more difficult to eventually get the help that he needed.
The discussion following the reading of this passage touched upon the pitfalls of helping physicians who develop addictions such as the one that Dr. Grinspoon lives with. Doctors work tirelessly for years and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their educations. The fear of losing their licenses is a massive deterrent for those with addictions to reach out for help. Grinspoon makes several good points regarding this, stating that there should be less punitive responses in the future to help get these doctors into the recovery programs that they so desperately need. These doctors have a lot to lose and once they are in the recovery process their is an astonishing 75-80% recovery rate. The issue here is getting them to the help that they need.
Grinspoon’s third passage introduced his 90 days in rehab. Although putting up a strong fight against it, his only other option was to face his charges. So, a disheveled Dr. Grinspoon arrived at a rehab facility in Virginia, scruffy in appearance and an inside-out shirt seemed to sum up his state upon arrival. He first noted seeing fellow patients outside smoking and described them as resembling a “gang of naughty teenagers.” This, a seemingly stark difference to the fellow patients he described as “inmates” that he encountered at the first rehabilitation facility he went to. Grinspoon was searched upon arrival, starting with a search of himself, then his bag, then his car which was parked outside. After a thorough search, a stash of over-the-counter medications were found in his trunk. The nurse who found them gave him a look I’m sure she has doled out thousands of times. Grinspoon was put through facing the stigma that addicts and physicians that fell off of their pedestals face.
Concluding his discussions, Dr. Grinspoon made a few statements that he has learned. He left the audience with these takeaways:
- Doctors in recovery tend to be excellent doctors.
- Opiate addiction is not a death sentence. With a good support system recovery can be made possible.
- We have to make treatment less punitive so people can get the help they actually need to recover.
- In order to work on resolving this epidemic, an important step will be de-stigmatizing the disease of addiction.
This book reading was a pleasure to attend and was informational. Having the fist hand perspective of a physician who is a recovering addict, this novel effectively tells a story that is all too often hidden or shoved into a corner as the taboo and stigma casts a shadow over the issue. This novel instills insight into its readers and acts as a vehicle in which change may be affected and works to tear down the stigmas associated with addiction through the telling of one doctor’s story.
By Alexis Maltes