Health Check: Doctor writes about his spiral into addiction and recovery
His name is Dr. Sylvester Sviokla, but he prefers to be called Skip. He also prefers his way of life these days. He's board certified in addiction medicine.
"I'm an addict by experience and also by training. I mean, I know about addiction," Sviokla said.
And boy does he. But his beginnings were promising. He was a standout football player at Harvard in the 1960s and went to medical school there. He became a surgeon and then a prominent emergency room doctor in California.
"There was too much freedom, too much money, too much traveling around," Sviokla said. "I began to find myself drinking more and whatever failing that I had, I made a lot of bad decisions."
Then he turned to prescription painkillers, including Vicodin.
"I thought I could control it, and that's a key element in this illness. You think you can control it. Because I had a high tolerance I had reason to believe I could control it," Sviokla said.
His journey is documented in his book "From Harvard to Hell and Back."
His addiction was out of control.
"I had sent out so many prescriptions fraudulently and I had committed fraud prescription writing by the hundreds, by a hundred at a time, and got people to do it for me," Sviokla said.
At one point he was taking 150 Vicodin pills a day.
"I would down them 6, 7, 8, 10 at a time, and sometimes I would burp up a whole pill. I was really pretty disgusting," he said.
But officials caught up to him. His medical license was suspended. He lost everything. But in doing so, he'll tell you he got his life back. His family stuck by him. And now he sees addicts in his Medical Assisted Recovery office in Warwick.
"We get people from the DMV. We get pretrial services. We get a lot of court referrals," Sviokla said.
He knows how addiction can take over. He's heard the lies.
"'That heroin in that urine is not mine.' Oh really? Well, who's is it?" he said.
But since he's been there, he knows recovery is not only possible, but probable, with help. And he knows how to reach people are addicted.
"Well, what you tell them is there is hope at the end of the tunnel," Sviokla said.
"From Harvard to Hell ... and Back" is an easy read, and it's honest. Sviokla said he hopes it will make a difference.