Addiction Can Happen to Anyone | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Addiction Can Happen to Anyone

By David Loffert

After completing four years at the University of Northern Colorado for my Bachelor of Science, one year at Johns Hopkins University for my Masters in Health Science and two 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 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. It was one of nine trips I would take to Germany to consult with a medical company established in Starnberg, Germany. 

By the time I was in my second year of my Ph.D. I had published/presented 54 medical papers, published six 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 that was all 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 timeframe 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 schools 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 this doctor lost his medical license for over-prescribing controlled substances and not monitoring that prescribing, it was too late for me. I had to drop out of my Ph.D. program due to my addiction. At this point in my life, I had to confront and accept some very disturbing facts: I no longer was pursuing the goal I had been following for the past 15 years, I was severely addicted to prescription drugs, the doctor who had been prescribing me the drugs had his medical license revoked 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 lost complete 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. The pharmacy called the doctor and verified the prescription was forged. The police were waiting for me 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 German 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, disenchanted 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 nine years I would attempt suicide one 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 rehabilitation 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 going 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 are essential for completing my autobiography. I believe I can inspire and educate others about addiction and recovery with my memoir. 

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.  I must now pay the bursar to officially obtain my degree. 

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 addiction and mental health by working as a Certified Peer Support Specialist. It is a passion and a pathway that I will pursue for the rest of my life. 


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