Work hard, play hard. This seems to be the motto of those who work in the Silicon Valley. In recent years, this very well contained, wide-spread substance abuse problem has been leaking into the media stream. There is Alix Tichelman, a prostitute who was found on the yacht of Google executive Forrest Hayes, who died of a heroin overdose administered by his companion in 2014. She pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter, earning a six-year sentence in county jail.
There are numerous other stories that the newly wealthy in Silicon Valley’s fast paced, grueling environment, have managed to keep low profile. Silicon Valley, as well as other high-pressure corporate arenas seem to be particularly vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction.
The demand for results and results no matter what, are so high that it seems a normal practice for people to stay up for days on end working. Many people in this high-tech industry report staying up for an unnatural amount of time with the help of uppers, then taking the edge off with downers once they have gone home for the day. A little cocaine in the morning, Adderall for lunch, and heroin upon retiring at home is not a recipe for success.
The Rat Race
So how does someone as well connected and informed end up dying of a heroin overdose? The story is all too common. People start off with legitimate prescriptions, which run out or stop working due to increased tolerance, and they turn to illicit drugs. The news is filled with people who are prescribed pain medicine for a back or sport injury and wind up addicted quicker than you may think. So when the pills run out and the doctor will not prescribe more, buy them illegally. However, a single OxyContin on the street can sell for eighty dollars, whereas heroin only costs, say, ten. Many people who have been down this road joke that heroin was the fiscally responsible thing to do.
With the media attention that addiction has received recently, the government has started to propose ways to crack down on doctors writing the prescriptions that get many people started. However, with the threats and attention, the doctors have responded by simply stopping the prescription of narcotics altogether. Although they should be applauded for not ignoring the problem, often the doctors do not wean their patients off these highly addictive pain killers, leaving the patients frantic and headed for withdrawal.
To understand what it feels like to try to go without a drug once addicted, the sensation is close to submerging your head in water and the subsequent feeling of panic that results from lack of oxygen. The people whose doctor simply pulled their prescription are left between a rock and a hard place. So they turn to heroin. Heroin is a drug so dangerous it seems unthinkable to many, but many of the people turning to it were as opposed to it as anyone else before they became dependent on the prescription pain pills.
The escalation of harm, amount needed just to function, and reliance on the drug happens very quickly for many people. The drug literally changes brain chemistry and circuitry to alter the person’s thinking in such a way that continued use seems like the only way to go. Heroin goes from “never” to “of course, that makes sense.” For those who have not had this experience, this thought process seems insane. It is insane.
Once addicted, the brain replaces survival with the drug as the most important goal. Just the drug. Using, managing supply, getting more, and so forth becomes all that matters. The disease of addiction is a disease of the mind and people who become addicted are not thinking rationally. In fact, rational is a long way off.
In such a high pressure environment, where you are always expendable and the competition is fierce, people’s human limitations are simply unacceptable. So, in a way, it makes sense that someone making millions a year, who owns a yacht, was an executive at Google, presumably with a promising career, would use heroin. Once hooked, people require help to stop using, but before professionals can help, first the person has to admit to themselves that they have a problem. It seems that the egos of Silicon Valley are their own worst enemy.