Pubdate: Sun, 27 Jul 2014
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2014 San Jose Mercury News
Authors: Patrick May and Heather Somerville
Page: A1


Fueling Their 80-Hour Work Weeks With a Cocktail of Drugs, Many Tech
Workers - and Execs- Are Slipping into a Dangerous Spiral

For Google executive Forrest Timothy Hayes, heroin was the killer

 From the way the Santa Cruz cops talk about it, the security camera
video that captured a reputed high-price call girl injecting the
51-year-old tech veteran with a fatal dose of the drug aboard his
yacht in Santa Cruz was surely horrific. But it was particularly
chilling for another reason:

While the seven-minute-long death scene drew a final curtain on the
life of the father of five, it raised another on a dark and largely
hidden side of Silicon Valley in 2014. With a booming startup culture
cranked up by fiercely competitive VPs and adrenaline-driven coders,
and a tendency for stressed-out managers to look the other way,
illicit drugs and black-market painkillers have become part of the
landscape here in the world's frothy fountain of tech.

"I've had them from Apple, from Twitter, from Facebook, from Google,
from Yahoo, and it's bad out there," says Cali Estes, a Miami-based
addictions coach who has helped 200 tech workers -- many of them
high-level executives -- struggling with everything from cocaine and
heroin to painkillers like oxycodone and stimulants like Adderall, a
prescription drug used to treat attention-deficit disorders.

"And it's a lot worse than what people think because it's all covered
up so well," says Estes. "If it gets out that a company's employees
are doing drugs, it paints a horrible picture."

Hayes' overdose last November -- alleged call girl Alix Tichelman was
arrested in connection with his death -- felt like an eerie tap on the
shoulder. Most Bay Area residents tend to marvel at the innovation
unfolding around them from the red-hot tech revival and do not fret
about the shadowy behavior that might help propel it all.

While precise numbers of techie drug users are impossible to come by,
most treatment and addiction experts see evidence of a growing problem
borne of a potent cocktail: newly minted wealth, intense competition
between companies and among their workers, the deadline pressure of
one product launch after another and a robust regional black-market
drug pipeline.

"There's this workaholism in the valley, where the ability to work on
crash projects at tremendous rates of speed is almost a badge of
honor," says Steve Albrecht, a San Diego consultant who teaches
substance abuse awareness for Bay Area employers. "These workers stay
up for days and days, and many of them gradually get into meth and
coke to keep going. Red Bull and coffee only gets them so far."

Furthering the problem, many tech companies do little or no drug
testing because, as Albrecht put it, "they want the results, but they
don't want to know how their employees got the results."

Drug abuse in the tech industry is growing against the backdrop of a
national surge in heroin and prescription pain-pill abuse. Treatment
specialists say the over-prescribing of painkillers, like the opioid
hydrocodone, has spawned a new crop of addicts -- working
professionals with college degrees, a description that fits many of
the thousands of workers in corporate Silicon Valley.

Increasingly, experts see painkillers as the gateway drug for addicts,
and they are in abundance. "There are 1.4 million prescriptions ... in
the Bay Area for hydrocodone," says Alice Gleghorn with the San
Francisco Department of Public Health. "That's a lot of pills out there."

Patients prescribed opioids for back pain or injuries can easily
become addicted; others get opioids on a thriving black market, or
easier yet, from the medicine cabinet of a family member or friend.

Dr. Norman Wall, a Calistoga detox specialist who works with employees
from iconic companies such as Apple, says the progression up the
addiction ladder is predictable: uppers like Adderall to keep up with
production demands and 12-hour days, then downers like oxycodone,
another powerful opioid, to take the edge off when you get home. "It's
not a big leap to get hooked on oxycodone," he says.

Dave Marlon, president of Nevada-based treatment center Solutions
Recovery Inc., which has treated tech workers from across the country,
says, "Some people say they need to take opioids in the morning just
to function and go to work. It's like drowning and you need air."

But when the pills are no longer enough, people turn to heroin --
first to smoke or snort, and then to inject, because they build a
tolerance and need an ever-greater dose to get the same high.

"People graduate to doing things that they never thought they would
have done," says Michael Johnson, executive director of The Camp
Recovery Center, a rehab center in Scotts Valley.

Heroin is also an opioid, so the mind and body respond much in the
same way they do to painkillers, but it's much cheaper -- about $20
for a half a gram, whereas some painkillers run $60 or more a pop,
according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. And over the last five or
six years, heroin has become more available throughout the Bay Area.

"Fifteen years ago, if you're shooting heroin, you had to had to go to
some pretty dark places and deal with dark characters and engage in
some dark deeds," Johnson says. "Not so much anymore."

Heroin use more than doubled nationally from 2002 to 2012, according
to a study of people age 12 and older by the federal Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Services Administration, and is now the second-most
common drug, after alcohol, reported by patients at treatment
facilities in San Francisco. The DEA has reported an increase in
heroin seizures in Santa Clara and surrounding counties from 6.3
pounds in 2012 to 22 pounds for the first half of this year.

The current surge of illicit drug use is hardly the Bay Area's first.
The Sixties, of course, were legendary. But it was the dot-com era
when the unique marriage of illicit drugs and tech-work really started
to click, with fast money fueling the frenzy.

Those days appear to be back now with a vengeance, says Eddy, a
longtime Valley tech worker and recovering addict who attends
Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Los Gatos and doesn't want his real
name used because of the group's allegiance to anonymity.

"What I'm seeing at meetings is a lot of people getting hooked,
courtesy of their doctors," he says. "You see very few of the
old-school addicts; most of these are college-educated folks who
either started abusing pain meds after an injury, or because of the
stress of these tech jobs they start doing cocaine to stay up and
oxycodone to relax. Working 80-hour weeks and making crazy money
extracts a horrible toll on you."

As the executive director of Morningside Recovery in Newport Beach,
Joel Edwards has seen what he calls "an influx in the last six or
seven years of tech-related clients abusing Adderall." Another popular
prescription upper is Provigil, normally used to treat narcolepsy and
raved about in online chat rooms by tech workers who say the drug
helps them stay up for 20 hours straight.

"They're using these drugs to work late into the night, under extreme
deadlines, with tons of stuff on their plates," says Edwards. "Even
the campuses are set up to keep you on site so you can always be
working. You hear the same thing over and over from clients: 'There's
always somebody else to take my place.'"

Drug problems are not confined to employees. Founders who once had a
neat project with a few buddies find themselves with hundreds of
employees to manage, IPOs to prepare for, media to answer to and
investors to woo -- and sometimes turn to drugs to cope.

"If your life is spinning out of control and is highly charged with
stress, you may believe you can take control by self-medicating, but
that's a delusion," says Byron Kerr, who sits on the board of
LifeRing, a sobriety program that recently began organizing meetings
in Santa Clara County.

Experts say that while some tech companies make efforts to help
employees with substance abuse problems, it's not nearly enough. Most
of the large tech firms offer counseling, but employees often avoid
these confidential services for fear they could lose their jobs if
word got out about their drug habits, according to counselors and
recovering addicts.

This newspaper contacted about a dozen large tech firms with questions
about substance abuse among workers; only Cisco and Google responded.
Both offer counseling through employee assistance programs, and a
Google spokeswoman said employees "can discuss a wide range of issues
with the on-site licensed clinical counselors."

Marina London, a licensed clinical social worker who ran employee
assistance programs at several tech companies, said some firms pay for
counseling as window dressing but fail to deal with the underlying

Many employers, including Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, advocate
moderation for their workers, but some hard-charging techies are
equally hard-partying.

Wall says his clients go to parties and see "coke in the room or some
pretty girl is passing around a bowl of something that could be
Ecstasy or oxycodone."

Part of the problem, experts say, is that our society often encourages
young people to self-medicate, starting as early as grammar school. By
the time software-savvy kids hit their teens, the valley's
"hackathons" provide a stage for drug abuse 1.0. These nonstop coding
sessions feature tables covered with Red Bull and Monster Energy
drinks, which can contain huge quantities of sugar that is addictive
and fires up the brain and body much like opioid drugs do.

"There is a reason addiction centers by and large do not allow Red
Bull and Monster on site," said Joyce Marvel-Benoist, program
coordinator for The Exclusive Hawaii, a luxury treatment center.

Therapists describe a well-trodden path from teen hackathons all the
way up the corporate ladder. One client of Estes' said Friday morning
board meetings included a plate of cocaine being passed around the
table. "He told me, 'I don't want to offend them, but I can't do this
- -- I have a heart problem.'"

Estes advised him to decline, which he did. The following Friday, two
others also declined.

"The next Friday," she says, "three more declined and eventually the
practice stopped. It must have been a peer-pressure thing."



249: Percent increase in heroin seizures by the Drug Enforcement
Agency's San Jose division, from 2012 to present

102: Percent increase nationally in heroin use among people age 12 and
older from 2002-2012

2nd: California's ranking among all states for highest rate of illicit
drug dependence and abuse among 18- to 25-year-olds

1.4 million: Current annual number of prescriptions for hydrocodone, a
powerful pain reliever, to Bay Area residents.

5.6: Percent of people age 12 and older in Alameda, Contra Costa,
Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties who take prescription pain
relievers for nonmedical purposes.

638,000: Number of California residents age 26 and up who use illicit
drugs, excluding marijuana; that's 2.7 percent of the population

159 per 100,000 population: Number of visits to hospital emergency
rooms each year in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties for
stimulant abuse; the national average is 30 visits per 100,000 people.

Sources: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, data
from 2012; City and County of San Francisco Department of Public Health
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