When Peter Grinspoon was at Boston University Medical School he says he was so fascinated by pharmacology, he wanted to try everything. One day a girlfriend of his got her hands on some Vicodin, an opioid pain medication. 

“So we tried them and I can honestly say that was the most amazing and happiest couple of hours I ever felt," he said. "And unfortunately I spent the next 10 or so years trying to recreate that initial feeling."

It doesn’t happen to everybody. But he said there’s a certain subset of people whose brain’s are hardwired for a certain kind of euphoria. It makes them much more likely to become addicts. And Grinspoon was in the easiest place in the world to get opioids - a hospital. He started grabbing all the free samples he saw.

“If I were at a friend’s house, I would sneak into the bathroom and take whatever pills they had," he said. "And then, as my addiction started progressing, in medical school when we did home visits, I’d sneak off into the bathroom and take the pills.”

He went from popping pills a couple of times a week in med school, to most nights when he was a resident.

“And then by the time I was practicing medicine, every night. I never took them before going to work. That’s one line I never crossed."

But he acknowledged it was headed that way, and it could have led to some kind of mistake.

"I fundamentally didn’t want to hurt anybody. I could never live with that," he said. "But on the trajectory that I was on, I think it was only a matter of time."

He certainly wasn’t his best at work - hung over, shaky, anxious. But even so, no one seemed to notice his addiction.   He actually worked out an arrangement with some of his addicted patients where he’d prescribe them more than they needed, and they’d give some back to him.

“In retrospect, of all the things I did when I was addicted, this is probably the thing that I’m most ashamed about, because it was such a violation of my responsibilities as a physician," Grinspoon said.

One day he legitimately wrote a prescription for the family’s nanny, and found that he could pick them up. He started calling in more and more for her, and taking them himself.

“One day the pharmacist called and said, ‘is this Ruth?’ (which isn’t really her name). And I was sort of sunk because I didn’t know what to say because that was the number that I gave. So I said, 'um, yes this is Ruth.' And she said ‘What’s your birthdate?’ And I didn’t know my birthday. And that was really much when the game was up."

Two weeks later, an officer from the DEA and one from state police showed up in his office. Grinspoon started stammering out some kind of excuse.

“The DEA agent cut me off and said, ‘doc, cut the crap. We know you’re writing bad scripts.’"

And then he lost everything. His job. His medical license. His marriage. His life was now all about things like inpatient rehab units and probation officers.

“I can’t say it was like a fairy tale where I went immediately from addiction to recovery. I failed a couple drug tests both before and after rehab. But, you know, over time, I finally got it, it finally sunk, and it’s been nine years now."

Grinspoon says one of the things you really need to get over an addiction is hope. You have to have an end in sight. A reason to stop doing drugs.

“I was hopeful I was going to get my medical license back," he said.

The very thing that made it so easy for him to become an addict in the first place - from all the stress and access to drugs everywhere he looked - is the very thing that motivated him to climb out of that addiction.

“The fact that you can help people, that you make as a primary care doctor connections with people that can last for years and years and years, and that you work and live in this collaborative collegial environment where you’re always sharing ideas with your colleagues and friends, I think those are the aspects that helped get me out of the addiction.”

Because he wanted all of that back. And after years of negative drug tests, and with the help of a lawyer, he got the medical board to give him another chance. He wasn’t allowed to prescribe drugs for the first year.

“So it wasn’t as if they just said ‘OK, go for it. Go back to work.’ I was back to work with meetings and check-ins and drug tests, and limits on what I could do. So I think they were pretty cautious about how they let me back to work."

He says the steps it took to get through recovery actually made him a better doctor.

“I feel like I’m more humble more down to earth, I’m living in the moment, I’m not trying to control everything that I can’t control, I’m a much better listener."

And he says he has absolutely no urge any more to grab pills when he sees them. Even though he’s wearing a white coat again, Grinspoon’s critical of a medical and criminal justice system that has doctors too scared to ask for help. He says as many as 15 percent of doctors are estimated to be suffering from drug or alcohol addiction. The good news, he says, is a societal shift shift towards treating addiction rather than punishing it. But he sees hypocrisy in the fact that that shift coincides with a growing realization that addiction doesn’t just affect minorities in the inner city - that white suburban people are addicts, too.

“I think that everybody should be treated like they should be allowed to get a second chance.”

He’s now working as a GP in a clinic in Chelsea, and occasionally he sees patients who are dealing with addiction. Until now, he hasn’t shared his own story with them. In the past year, he says, two of his patients have died of overdoses. One was a woman in her fifties.

“Intellectually, there’s nothing I could have done," he said. "But emotionally, it feels like there’s a lot I could have done.  And I wonder if I’d have come out of the closet, it it could have made a difference."

Now, Grinspoon’s sharing his story in a big way. He just published a book about it. It's called “Free Refills.” After a recent reading at a public library, a 20-year-old heroine addict came up to talk to him.

“He said that he’s, you know, he’s hanging on.  And it’s really difficult. It’s been 73 days. And that, he sort of said it’s been tough, because there’s not much to look forward to."

Grinspoon told him 'if you just stay off the drugs, everything will fall into place.'

“And you’ll get a lot more, because you’ll going to have all these extra tools and personality traits that are going to help you be successful."

He responded by asking Grinspoon to be his primary care doctor. Grinspoon told him he’s not taking new patients right now. But he’d make an exception in this case.