David: From Hopkins to homeless
The views and opinions expressed in following story are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Mental Health Colorado.
It has been a long, arduous, and self-revealing journey through my nine years of addiction to recovery. Unfortunately, along the way I became deceitful, dishonest, unreliable, and untrustworthy. On the other hand, I can proclaim that through my suffering and adversity came great rewards and prosperity.
After completing 4 years at the University of Northern Colorado for my Bachelor of Science, 1 year at Johns Hopkins University for my Masters in Health Science, and 2 years into my Ph.D. in respiratory medicine at the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University, I thought I had complete control of my life. Specifically, my career in aerosol respiratory medicine. I had published my first paper in a respectable peer reviewed medical journal when I was 27. Several months after that, I presented the paper at a medical conference in Germany. It was one of numerous trips I would take nationally and internationally to present my work.
By the time I was in my second year of my Ph.D. I had published/presented 54 medical papers, published 6 peer reviewed medical papers, was contributing author on one book, owned and operated my own consulting company in respiratory medicine, developed a patent for respiratory devices, and was progressing successfully in my Ph.D. I was 31 years old and I was proud of my accomplishments and my continuing success in respiratory medicine. But, all of that was about to change. Addiction would enter my life and take away from me my possessions, my profession, my loved ones, and my sanity.
My pathway to addiction started when I made an appointment to see a doctor for migraine headaches. I put great trust in him due to the fact that he was the medical school’s doctor and was responsible for taking care of the students enrolled in the medical school programs. In a time frame of 8 months I was prescribed 6,647 controlled substance pills. I had pills to help me stay awake and study, pills for helping me sleep, pills for anxiety, and pills for pain. I knew about addiction but I thought I was too intelligent to become addicted. Anyway, these pills were provided to me by the school’s doctor who said he had taken pills when he was in medical school to help him succeed. My ignorance would cause me to lose almost a decade of my life and would bring me close to death many times as a result of my severe drug addiction.
Although my doctor lost his medical license for over prescribing controlled substances, it was too late for me. I had to drop out of my Ph.D. program due to my addiction. That doctor lost his license 3 months after I dropped out of the program. At this point in my life, I had to confront and accept some very disturbing facts: I was no longer pursuing the goal I had been following for the past 15 years, I was severely addicted to prescription drugs, and the main focus of my life was to obtain drugs. I was, in essence, trapped in the severity of my addiction. For the first time, I had completely lost control over my life.
My first of numerous addiction–related detrimental events came when I was presenting a medical paper at a respiratory conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Before my lecture I forged a prescription on my computer and proceeded to the pharmacy to have it filled. Since the prescription was for Demerol, the pharmacy called the doctor and verified the prescription was forged. The police were waiting for me (at the conference lecture hall) to finish my lecture and when I did they handcuffed and arrested me. I was taken out in front of all my colleagues and conference members and taken to jail. Needless to say I was immediately fired from my job as a senior aerosol scientist for a prominent company established in the United States.
For many years I was doctor shopping. I would acquire my drugs in many ways: the internet, hospital emergency rooms, forged prescriptions, clinics, private doctors, and in other countries. I would stay employed by various companies because of my experience in respiratory medicine. But, I would ultimately get fired when my drug addiction interfered with the quality of my work. Eventually, word of my addiction became known to my colleagues and the respiratory medicine industry. From that point on, I was not called upon to lecture, to consult, or in any way work in the respiratory medicine industry. I was, for all intents and purposes, “blackballed” from my profession.
Shunned from my profession, distanced from my family and friends, and homeless, I fell into a deep depression. It was at this time that I wrote a suicide note and attempted to commit suicide. Over the next 9 years I would attempt suicide 1 more time, have 35 toxic overdoses, and 45 seizures. All of which brought me close to death each time.
During the nine years of my addiction, I would periodically give the rehabilitations a try. Nine times I made a serious effort to get sober. But, every time I would relapse within weeks of being discharged. After nine years of being an addict, I completely surrendered to my disease and came to the understanding that my addiction was not going to be successfully addressed in weeks or even in a couple months of treatment. I realized that my recovery would require at least a year in a long-term residential program where I could work on my addiction issues every day with no distractions. I found that in a year-long cognitive/behavioral rehabilitation program. This program not only worked on my addiction issues but also worked on my cognitive/behavioral issues that caused me to seek out the drugs.
Currently, my life is finally in a direction I can be proud of. I graduated from a year-long in-patient residential cognitive/behavioral rehabilitation facility. My sobriety restored my clarity of thought and determination, two attributes which were essential for completing my autobiography, From Hopkins To Homeless: My True Story Of Prescription Drug Addiction. I believe I can inspire and educate others about addiction and recovery with my autobiography.
My future is completely open with possibilities. I do know that I am very thrilled and inspired living life as a sober individual. And, for the first the first time in over nine years, I have a sense of self-confidence and respect for myself. This confidence reminds me that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. For this reason, I enrolled and completed my doctorate in public health education and have also completed training to become a certified peer support specialist.
It has been a long, arduous, and self-revealing journey through my nine years of addiction to recovery. Unfortunately, along the way I became deceitful, dishonest, unreliable, and untrustworthy. On the other hand, I can proclaim that through my suffering and adversity came great rewards and prosperity. Today, I continue to advocate for those affected by the diseases of addiction and mental health. It is a passion and a pathway that I will pursue for the rest of my life.
— David Loffert
DONATE TO MENTAL HEALTH COLORADO
More than 500,000 Coloradans lack the mental health care they need. You can change that. For more than 60 years, Mental Health Colorado has led the charge in promoting mental health, ending stigma, and ensuring equitable access to mental health and substance use services. It’s life-changing work. Your contribution makes it possible.