Even doctors can get addicted! The extraordinary story of Dr. Ortenzio!

Doctor addicted to drugs

West Virginia doctor’s addiction and redemption.

As reported by the atlantic.com, a prominent West Virginia physician got himself and his patients, who trusted him- addicted to prescription opioids. The typical day in the life of Dr. Lou Ortenzio, back in 1988 included staying past seven o’clock in the evening after all of the staff is gone home, doing paperwork, seeing late patients,  and making phone calls. As he passes by the cabinet, where the sample medications were stored, a 35 year old family practitioner picked up a box of Vicodin, extra-strength. Each tablet in the box of twenty contained 750 milligrams of acetaminophen, 7.5 milligrams of hydrocodone-an opioid prescribed as painkiller. Dr. Ortenzio had been seen patients after hours in an effort to keep his practice growing. However, the downside of this was he started having severe head ache, exhaustion, he needed some kind of upper to keep working and staying up late. In a brief moment, he looked around and then put the pill in his mouth.  He knew that no one would ever find out, since this were single use samples left by the pharmaceutical reps.  He went from feeling anxious and tense, to feel exhilarating and restful. The pills provided temporary relief, although lasted only for four hours, he was able to manage through the end of the night. At the time, Ortenzio was considered of the most prominent and most loved physicians in the Clarksburg area. Other doctors sent his family members to him, and his patients called him Doc O.  His patients took comfort in his ability to listen and understand them. His patients confide most personal things in him, and thought of him as a brother, a family member. One patient shared that when his son was born with severe brain infection, and had to be transferred miles away, Dr. Ortenzio often called to check on the infants well being. Being a physician and a small local community, and having shortage in resources, made him a jack of all trades. He could often being seen making hospital rounds, ICU checks , visited patients at home, and provided obstetric and hospice care. Being a doctor was his true calling, he thrived on his noble occupation. Long hours and sleepless nights had its toll on him and his family. He became absent in his family dinners, skipped spending time with his children. In addition, the high stress of medical world, caused him his own health; he developed sleep disorder and gained weight.  Although it took many years to manifest itself, but what started as a simple remedy for stress and exhaustion, ultimately developed in to full blown addiction. As a consequence, he almost lost everything that held most importance to him: family, his practice and his reputation.

Today, in America we experience the worst opioid and drug crisis we’d ever seen. The drug epidemic we deal with today, is not based on the drugs sold on the streets.  For the past few decades, we had seen doctors benefiting from pill mills, but wrote merely a small portion of overall opioid prescription in US. Today’s opioid epidemics is based on over prescribed narcotics painkillers by physicians who genuinely believe they are doing right by their patients, helping them  manage and overcome their pain. Most practitioners have been advised by pain specialist, who considered pain killers as a compassionate response to a suffering patient, And last, the insurance companies found it to be more cost-effective and, assured by drug companies it was a safe way to treat chronic and post traumatic pain. Pain killers had gained it’s popularity among doctors, and by 1990, Ortenzio reached the top placement among his peers for prescribing pain pills. He never stopped to think that it may be wrong, or it would have irreparable impact on the lives of his patients in the future. In time, many specialists began promoting a dogma, that pain killers were not addictive while used to treat pain. Opioids to become available with prescription to any one with pain, and allowed to be taken in increased amounts, with indefinite period of time. It was no longer limited to terminally ill patients. Such notion had no scientific explanation or proof, nor any conclusive evidence was provided. One well known author at the time suggested that purpose of pain killer advocates was solely to declassify opioids as safe with out significant evidence. Ortensio succumbed to desperation, and often involved his own patients in his scam to get his hands on more pain killers. He attempted to quit, but realize that now he has symptoms of withdrawal and addiction. Its become a vicious cycle. His addiction and being working overtime, had cause him a divorce. Hi finally found redemption during an appointment with one of his patients, who prayed for him, that brought him to his new life, and newly found faith. He became a founder of Celebrate Recovery, a Christian Ministry founded in Orange County, The treatment center grew over the years due to an alarming size of the opioid epidemics. In addition, he opened sober-living facility in Downtown for recovering addicts. Unfortunately, Dr. Ortenzio will never practice medicine again, however he is still providing vital care to those in need.


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