Pharmacist Drug Abuse


Drug abuse by pharmacists can have serious personal and professional consequences--but ignoring the problem won't make it go away.

When I think back on my days back in pharmacy school, one thought about the students I hung out with comes to mind: What a bunch of criminals. We did a staggering amount of drugs in school.

Frankly, I rarely met a drug that I didn’t like back then. (I did cocaine in my 20s and, thankfully, absolutely hated it.) In high school, I drank maybe three times in all four years. Then I went to college and had my first hangover five days into orientation. I quickly learned that 600 milligrams of ibuprofen, a multivitamin, and a pint or two of water before bed was an effective preemptive cure, provided that the room wasn’t spinning to the point of my vomiting in it. (Been there, done that.) I drank every Thursday through Saturday for about five years straight. I used to say I drank because I liked the taste of beer, which is true as far as it goes, but I really drank to get drunk.

From there it escalated. When I started smoking cannabis in December of my freshman year, I instantly fell in love with a girl named Mary Jane. I’m not going to tell you when I stopped, but I don’t do it anymore. I honestly don’t see what the big deal is, and I think Colorado and Washington State are on the right track. It just sank in one day that it wasn’t worth losing my license over.

But cannabis was the least of my problems. I probably have a hole in my brain from all the nitrous oxide and amyl nitrate I huffed. We also didn’t think twice about the occasional intramuscular injection of a milliliter of ketamine. Thanks to our education, we knew the dose would not prove fatal.

I discovered the truth of this maxim over the years: If knowledge is power, and to have power is to abuse it, then abuse it we will. We calculated lethal doses based on body weight, realized how far under the cap we were, and went to town. I’m 41 years old now, and I am thankful every day that I have made it this far. I am without question a drug addict. A recovered one, but an addict nonetheless.

I lost a dear friend who was a pharmacist to “the monster.” He always liked his hydrocodone back in school. He never stopped liking it, and, with the ready accessibility offered through his job in community pharmacy, he wound up dead at 31. Such a waste.

I have learned one thing over the years of my practice. The overseers don’t care if you do drugs. They care if you do THEIR drugs. Aside from showing up at work obviously high, the only way you’ll end up getting drug tested is if your narcotic inventory numbers don’t line up for a few months. In that situation, if you test positive for ANY drug, you are gone. At some point, the risk just wasn’t worth it for me anymore.

The drug abuse rate among pharmacists is twice that of general society. If you are using cannabis, you had better realize the chance you are taking with your license and proceed accordingly. If you are an alcoholic, hard drug user, or pill addict, get clean. You are destroying yourself. I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of 12-step programs and the support they offer. It works if you work it, and it’s worth it. Peace.

Jay Sochoka, RPh, is not what he could be and he’s not what he should be, but he’s not what he was.

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