Drug Rehab 2021 Round 1 – From heroin addict to addiction researcher


From heroin addict to addiction researcher

Though I was thrilled to be living on my own, making friends, and getting involved on campus, a dark cloud followed me during my freshman year at college. I had suffered from depression for years, but an upswelling of unfamiliar manic symptoms were throwing my life into turmoil. My experience is mirrored by many who suffer from addiction. Two of the reasons for our nations’ addiction crisis are the lack of mental health supports and stigmatization of mental illness preventing many from seeking treatment. In addition to negatively affecting my schoolwork and relationships, my uncontrolled bipolar mood swings and subsequent psychosis caused me to turn to heroin for relief. The consequences of my addiction were all-encompassing. Ultimately, I was forced to drop out of school and quit my job as a physics research assistant at Argonne National Laboratory due to my struggles with substance abuse. Although my heroin use negatively impacted every area of my life, it wasn’t until I developed a necrotic infection that caused me to lose all movement and feeling in my legs that I decided to seek sobriety. Many months of physical therapy, in addition to working an aggressive recovery program, were required for me to stay sober and regain my ability to walk without assistance. I remember one particular afternoon in which I shared with the members of my recovery group my dream to become a physician. I felt that my goal was now out of reach, because who would ever want someone like me to be their doctor? At the time, I viewed my issues with substance abuse as a tragedy; I lost my job, my housing, my health, and several important relationships. A number of my peers spoke up in encouragement, that it is exactly because of my struggle that I would make a great physician. They expressed to me the wish that their own doctors had the kind of understanding and compassion that comes from first-hand experience with addiction. I kept these words close to my heart as I resumed college. Now that I have almost eight years of sobriety under my belt, I have a different perspective of the experience. The triumph of my recovery is one of my deepest sources of pride and is an exceptional personal achievement.

After years of hard work, I earned a BA in Chemistry from Roosevelt University and am currently pursuing a PhD in Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As a member of the Riley Lab (riley.lab.uic.edu), I have the privilege of researching new potential medicines to treat substance use disorders, as well as use my organic chemistry skills to make them in the lab myself. Although many Americans are aware of the ongoing opioid crisis, it is a surprising statistic that 27% of synthetic opioid–related overdose deaths in 2016 involved psychostimulants, signaling the need to address psychostimulant abuse as part of a comprehensive response to the opioid epidemic. Despite this need for suitable antiaddictive treatments, there are no FDA-approved drugs for addressing psychostimulant addiction. The development of such drugs would be a tremendous step towards remedying the national addiction crisis on both the individual and societal level. Therefore, I am committed to developing new pharmacological treatments for psychostimulant abuse. Encouraged by the words of my fellow recovery-seekers, I feel a sense of responsibility to use my personal experience of addiction in a way that benefits and advocates for my friends who have not yet found the freedom and peace of mind that sobriety brings.