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I’m a Doctor, and I Was Addicted to Opioids. It Can Happen to Anyone

Dr. Faye Jamali shares the realities of this crisis with her personal story of addiction and recovery.


What started as a fun-filled day to celebrate her children’s birthdays ended with a fall that changed Dr. Faye Jamali’s life forever.

Near the end of the birthday party, Jamali went to her car to get goody bags for the children. As she was walking in the parking lot, she slipped and broke her wrist.

The injury caused Jamali, then 40, to undergo two surgeries in 2007.

“After the surgeries, the orthopedic surgeon gave me a bunch of pain meds,” Jamali says.

With 15 years of experience as an anesthesiologist, she knew that the prescription was standard practice at the time.

“We were told in medical school, residency, and our [clinical] workplaces that… there wasn’t an addictive issue with these medications if they were used to treat surgical pain,” Jamali says.

Because she was experiencing a lot of pain, Jamali took Vicodin every three to four hours.

“The pain got better with the meds, but what I noticed is that when I took the meds, I didn’t get as stressed as much. If I had a fight with my husband, I didn’t care and it didn’t hurt me as much. The meds seemed to make everything OK,” she says.

The emotional effects of the drugs sent Jamali down a slippery slope.

I didn’t do it often at first. But if I was having a hectic day, I thought, If I could just take one of these Vicodin, I’ll feel better. That’s how it started,” explains Jamali.

She also endured migraine headaches during her period for years. When a migraine struck, she sometimes found herself in the emergency room getting an injection of narcotics to ease the pain.

“One day, at the end of my shift, I started getting a really bad migraine. We discard our waste for narcotics at the end of the day in a machine, but it occurred to me that instead of wasting them, I could just take the meds to treat my headache and avoid going to the ER. I thought, I’m a doctor, I’ll just inject myself,” Jamali recalls.

She went into the bathroom and injected the narcotics into her arm.

“I immediately felt guilty, knew I crossed a line, and told myself I’d never do it again,” Jamali says.

But the next day, at the end of her shift, her migraine hit again. She found herself back in the bathroom, injecting the meds.

“This time, for the first time, I had euphoria associated with the medicine. Before it just took care of the pain. But the dosage I gave myself truly made me feel like something broke in my brain. I was very upset with myself for having access to this amazing stuff for so many years and never using it,” Jamali says. “That’s the point where I feel like my brain was hijacked.”

Over the next several months, she gradually upped her dosage in an attempt to chase that euphoric feeling. By three months in, Jamali was taking 10 times as much narcotics as she first injected.

Every time I injected, I thought, Never again. I can’t be an addict. An addict is the homeless person on the street. I’m a doctor. I’m a soccer mom. This can’t be me,” Jamali says.

Your average person with addiction problems, just in a white coat

Jamali soon found out that the stereotype of a “typical addict” isn’t accurate and wouldn’t keep her safe from addiction.

She recalls a time when she got into a fight with her husband and drove to the hospital, went straight to the recovery room, and checked out medication from the narcotic machine under a patient’s name.

“I said hi to the nurses and went right to the bathroom and injected. I woke up on the floor about one or two hours later with the needle still in my arm. I had vomited and urinated on myself. You’d think I would have been horrified, but instead I cleaned myself up and was furious at my husband, because if we hadn’t had that fight, I wouldn’t have had to go and inject,” Jamali says.

Your brain will do anything to keep you using. Opioid addiction is not a moral or ethical failing. Your brain becomes changed,” Jamali explains.
Jamali says the clinical depression she developed in her 30s, chronic pain from her wrist and migraines, and access to opioids set her up for an addiction.

However, causes of addiction vary from person to person. And there’s no doubt the issue is prevalent in the United States, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that more than 200,000 people died in the United States from prescription opioid-related overdoses between 1999 and 2016.

Additionally, overdose deaths connected to prescription opioids were 5 times higher in 2016 than 1999, with more than 90 people dying each day due to opioids in 2016.

Jamali’s hope is to break the stereotypical addict often portrayed in the media and minds of many Americans.

This can happen to anyone. Once you are in your addiction, there is nothing anybody can do until you get help. The problem is, it is so hard to get help,” Jamali says.

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“We are going to lose a generation to this disease unless we put money into recovery and unless we stop stigmatizing this as a moral or criminal failing of people,” she says.

Losing her job and getting help

A few weeks after Jamali woke up mortified in the bathroom at work, she was questioned by hospital personnel about the amount of medications she’d been checking out.

“They asked me to hand over my badge and told me I was on suspension until they completed their investigation,” Jamali recalls.

That night, she admitted to her husband what was going on.

“This was the lowest point in my life. We were already having marital problems, and I figured he’d kick me out, take the kids, and then with no job and no family, I’d lose everything,” she says. “But I just rolled up my sleeves and showed him the track marks on my arms.”

While her husband was shocked — Jamali rarely drank alcohol and never did drugs previously — he promised to support her in rehab and recovery.

The next day, she entered an outpatient recovery program in the San Francisco Bay Area.

My first day in rehab, I had no idea what to expect. I show up dressed nicely with a pearl necklace on, and I sit down next to this guy who says, ‘What are you here for? Alcohol?’ I said, ‘No. I inject narcotics.’ He was shocked,” Jamali says.For about five months, she spent all day in recovery and went home at night. After that, she spent several more months attending meetings with her sponsor and exercising self-help practices, such as meditation.

“I was extremely fortunate that I had a job and insurance. I had a holistic approach to recovery that went on for a year,” she says.

During her recovery, Jamali realized the stigma that surrounds addiction.

“The disease may not have been my responsibility, but the recovery is 100 percent my responsibility. I learned that if I do my recovery daily, I can have an amazing life. In fact, a much better life than I did before, because in my old life, I had to numb the pain without actually feeling the pain,” Jamali says.

About six years into her recovery, Jamali received a breast cancer diagnosis. After undergoing six operations, she wound up having a double mastectomy. Through it all, she was able to take pain medication for a few days as directed.

“I gave them to my husband, and I didn’t know where they were in the house. I upped my recovery meetings during this time, too,” she says.

Around the same time, her mother nearly died from a stroke.

“I was able to cope with all of this without relying on a substance. As ridiculous as it sounds, I’m grateful for my experience with addiction, because in recovery, I gained tools,” Jamali says.

A new path forward

It took the Medical Board of California two years to review Jamali’s case. By the time they put her on probation, she’d been in recovery for two years.

For seven years, Jamali underwent urine testing once a week. However, after a year on suspension, her hospital allowed her to go back to work.

Jamali returned to work gradually. For the first three months, someone accompanied her on the job at all times and monitored her work. The physician in charge of her recovery also prescribed the opioid blocker naltrexone.

A year after she completed her probation in 2015, she left her job in anesthesia to embark on a new career in aesthetic medicine, which includes performing procedures like Botox, fillers, and laser skin rejuvenation.

“I’m 50 years old now, and I’m really excited about the next chapter. Because of recovery, I’m brave enough to make decisions that are good for my life,” she says.

Jamali also hopes to bring good to others by advocating for opioid addiction awareness and change.

Although strides are being made to help alleviate the opioid crisis, Jamali says more needs to be done.

“Shame is what keeps people from getting the help they need. By sharing my story, I can’t control people’s judgement of me, but I can potentially help someone who needs it,” she says.

Her hope is to break the stereotypical addict often portrayed in the media and minds of many Americans.

My story, when it comes down it, is no different than the homeless person shooting up on the street corner,” Jamali says. “Once your brain is hijacked by opioids, even though you may not look like a typical user, you are the person on the street. You are the heroin addict.

Jamali also spends time talking with doctors who find themselves in the same situation she once was.

“If this started over an orthopedic injury to someone like me in their 40s with no history of drug or alcohol problems, it can happen to anyone,” Jamali points out. “And as we know in this country, it is.”

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Substance Abuse Initiative begins in Stone, Taney counties

BRANSON, Mo. (KY3) – Substance abuse is something few like to talk about, let alone admit they’re struggling with, which makes it hard to address in certain communities. The Stone and Taney County Substance Abuse Initiative just rolled out a new tool to help assess the problem in that area.

The grant funded task force formed last year and has been working ever since to define the problem of substance abuse, and prevent it from growing. They’ve held a series of community summits to get vital feedback from residents.

Based on feedback gathered in those meetings, the group has identified alcohol, prescription drugs, marijuana, and methamphetamine as top substances of concern. They’ve also identified some top risk factors that may lead to substance abuse, among those are low socioeconomic status and ease of access to alcohol.

“We are doing it more to be proactive. In all of the news across the nation so many states and communities are being hit with the opiod epidemic and substance abuse issues and we recognize that our community could be hit in the same way in the future, and we want to do something to keep that from happening,” said Marietta Hagan, Project Coordinator for CoxHealth Branson.

Now the Stone and Taney County Substance Abuse Initiative has just entered the last stage of research and they need your help. The group has launched an online survey that people in Stone and Taney counties can take anonymously to weigh in on areas of concern.

“One of our big focuses is evidence based, so we want to see some evidence-based programming be implemented in the schools and in the community programs that already exisit,” said Hagan.

“Though that is a slow process and it may take a couple of years to really see those numbers changing we can see how it’s impacting the community right when we start,” she explained.

If you live in Stone or Taney county and want to leave feedback, the survey can be found at and will remain open through May 19. Links to the survey can also be found on

The Substance Abuse Initiative is made possible through the Skaggs Legacy Endowment. Since 2013, Skaggs Foundation has awarded more than $3 million through the Skaggs Legacy Endowment to area agencies dedicated to improving health and wellness in Taney and Stone counties. Skaggs Legacy Endowment is a restricted endowment fund made possible by a generous gift from CoxHealth. Funds are dedicated to improving access to health care, supporting healthy lifestyles, child and family safety, dental care, mental health and substance abuse. For more information about Skaggs Legacy Endowment or Skaggs Foundation, visit

Community Comes Together To Combat Substance Abuse

BRANSON, Mo. – Leaders from Stone and Taney Counties came together Thursday to help combat substance abuse in their respective communities.

A drug summit was held in Branson to update community members on a new drug-prevention initiative started by the Skaggs Legacy Foundation.

Among the dozens of community leaders in attendance was Lt. Shawn DeBarr, Corps Officer of the Salvation Army in Branson.

“Sometimes you can feel that you’re working at this alone,” he says, “That the infrastructure and opportunities aren’t there to get them the help they need.”

DeBarr says the summit showed him that might not be the case after all. Various organizations, including the Salvation Army, took time to share their respective missions and how community members could help.

“It’s not just a simple thing of identifying the concerns and saying how terrible it is,” says DeBaar, “but stakeholders and community members [showed me] they are willing to see this addressed.”

Drug prevention expert, Dr. William Geary, who was hired as a consultant by the Skaggs Legacy Foundation, says Branson has many of the necessary tools to help those struggling with drug addiction.

However, he says, until this new initiative began, many of those organizations were unaware of one another.

“I think the good thing here is it was pretty obvious, out of the gate, that this was a group of leaders that were anxious to do something,” he says.

Geary says the area isn’t experiencing a “crisis,” unlike some of the communities he has assisted over the last two decades.

He believes the willingness by the area to take a proactive approach will allow them to implement a successful long-term plan.

“It allows you to be more thoughtful,” he says. “It allows you to get through the things you need to get through quickly, quickly, but it also lets you tap the breaks when you need to and give things more thought”

Geary says his recommendations from the community are coming, but he wants to wait until he’s had in-depth conversation with the organizations that will be implementing them.

“I have some [ideas] in the back of my mind I think would work,” he says, “but it really, in the end, it’s their decision.”

Until then, it appears the first phase of the process is making an impact.

“This has reaffirmed for myself and the Salvation Army that there is a willingness in the community to address those needs,” says DeBaar.

The next step of the process will be early next month with the use of a community survey.

Source: Ozarks First