Profiles in Recovery

Peter Grinspoon, M.D.

America’s opioid scourge does not discriminate – even if you’re a successful doctor.

Peter Grinspoon got hooked on powerful opioid painkillers while working as a primary care physician in Massachusetts. A pharmacist tipped off police after becoming suspicious. “My medical career was totally derailed when my office was raided by the State Police and the DEA,” Grinspoon recalls. “I was facing criminal charges, and my family fell apart so that I had limited access to my two small children.”

He fought hard to get a second chance – getting treatment for addiction and taking weekly drug tests for seven years, under a diversion program approved by the state medical board.

Today, Grinspoon has his license back, a thriving family practice, and teaching work at Harvard Medical School. He also counsels other physicians battling addiction and says his recovery, now 10 years strong, has made him a more humble, compassionate doctor.

Day Jobs:
Primary care doctor at an inner city clinic in Boston; staff physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. Author of “Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts His Addiction

At my worst, I was:
Hung over, if not still high, when I was making life or death decisions about patient’s healthcare and stealing pills from friends, relatives and patients. I got caught writing fraudulent prescriptions.

Rules I live by:
If you ever become an arrogant, narcissistic doctor again, have someone shoot you. Try to live in the present. Listen to people. Do whatever you can to help out with the opioid epidemic. Read as many books as you can.

What worked for me:
The Physician Health Service monitored me for seven years and did weekly drug tests. If I failed drug tests, I knew that I wouldn’t get my medical license back.

It also was critical that my friends and family didn’t give up on me!

Best advice for newbies:
If you just stop doing drugs or drinking, THINGS WILL GET BETTER.

When cravings come:
Luckily, they are in the past.

On my schedule today:
Hike with my wonderful wife, hang out with my teenage kids, work on the novel I am writing.

What I value most in recovery:
The ability to give back and help others.

Stigma I faced:
“I don’t want you to be my doctor if you were a DRUG ADDICT. . . ”

What I learned about myself:
I am resilient, and that, as my counselor at rehab said, it isn’t over until you are buried under six feet of dirt. Never give up.

How I get through the holidays:
I eat too much.

I get inspired by:
Great books, great writing, inspiring people who overcome the odds or who dedicate themselves to helping others or improving the world.

Proudest moment:
When my memoir was published. I had come out with my story publicly, faced the stigma, and did my share to beat back the stigma to show that ANYONE can get addicted, even your friendly, successful primary care doctor.

What saves me from myself:
My brothers, my wife, my kids, and, especially, writing.

Thoughts on relapse:
Don’t give up, just get back on your horse and keep going.

On finding purpose:
It is critical! It will help you get through anything and everything. But, it is different for each of us.

Follow Dr. Grinspoon on his website at petergrinspoon.com; on Twitter @Peter_Grinspoon

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If you’re a person in long-term recovery who wants to share your insights, please contact us at [email protected].