A few of you may sympathize with me, but most of you probably think of drug abusers as human garbage. Until recently, I felt that way myself. The opinion formed in 1974 when, after graduating from medical school, I was briefly put in charge of a hospital's alcoholdetox unit. It seemed clear that my patients were just disgustingly weak-willed people who couldn't break the habit of dumping ethanol into their bodies.
Back then, the only drug I took was an occasional amphetamine to keep me alert on days after I'd moonlighted in the local emergency room. The long hours and chemical pep seemed justified by my $20,000 education debt, my impending marriage to a woman with two sons (ages 5 and 11 at the time), and by the fact that we'd soon move to Texas, where I was to begin a three-year pediatric residency paying $9,000 a year.
The Texas hospital had a rigorous teaching program, a heavy census, and a shortage of residents. Throughout 1975, I was on call every third night and usually couldn't sleep. Also, since my family was barely staying afloat financially, I spent weekends either moonlighting or on call. In order to maintain that brutal pace, I was taking 12 ½ mg of amphetamines every morning.
My family's allergies, aggravated by the Texas climate, forced me to hunt for another residency. None was available, but by the end of the year I landed a position with a group-practice clinic in a small Southern town. My colleagues--two GPs, two surgeons, and an OB man--would concentrate on the adults, while I took care of the pediatric patients.
I built up my new practice to 25 patients a day during 1976. Adding a generous salary to what I made by continuing to moonlight, I increased my annual take-home pay to $50,000. I also increased my daily amphetamine dose to 25 mg.