By New Times
By Connor Radnovich
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Ray Stern
By Keegan Hamilton
By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
Sitting in a north Scottsdale Starbucks, Dr. Steven Locnikar looks like he walked straight off the set of Scrubs, House, or ER. At 40, he still looks the part of a suave, sophisticated young physician. But Locnikar has had his license revoked twice because of his drug addiction.
Locnikar wears a tight blue T-shirt that covers his well-built upper body and matches his eyes. He talks with the intelligence of a med school whiz. His voice is calm and engaging as he candidly discusses his years as a drug addict and cosmetic surgeon in Scottsdale, detailed in his self-published book Doctor Hyde, released last year. The book gives a glimpse into the denial of an addicted physician.
In the early '90s, Locnikar was fresh out of his residency, and his cosmetic surgery practice was thriving. Cosmopolitan magazine even named him Bachelor of the Year.
And he was descending into his first bout with addiction.
"I started using casually, like anyone else, on the weekends," he says. "That went on for months. Then the weekends began on Thursday or lasted until Monday. You go to work tired and hung-over. To me, that is the absolute most impaired you'll ever be. Even if you didn't use on the way to work, you're cloudy, tired, impaired. You don't want to make decisions. Soon, I was using during work. There was a time where I'd run into the bathroom, nasal snort, and finish up the day."
In 1995, Scottsdale police arrested Locnikar for drunken driving. They found cocaine in his car and in his bloodstream. Locnikar, a D.O., was responsible to the Osteopathic Medical Board, the cousin of the larger Allopathic Medical Board, which licenses M.D.s. The D.O. and M.D. boards share the same five-year rehab program.
The osteopathic board forced Locnikar into inpatient rehab and then onto the MAP probation, with its random drug tests. But Locnikar remained in denial.
"I played the game, went through the 'recovery,' but I didn't really get it. They wanted me to do it, and I did it. I still didn't think I was an addict," Locnikar says.
During his five years of MAP probation, Locnikar built another successful cosmetic surgery practice. At its height of success, he was making $5 million a year. He got married and bought a 10,000-square-foot home.
Five years later, he graduated. And the drug tests ended.
"At the end of my probationary period, once again, I'd achieved all this financial reward. But I never really felt fulfilled or happy or content. I casually started drinking, picked up a few pills on the house. Addiction progresses, even if you aren't using. You'll pick right up where you left off. I soon got to the point where pills or cocaine snorted didn't work. I started shooting, injecting heroin, Demerol, anything I could get my hands on."
Locnikar then practiced as an addict for three years.
"Even at that point, people were still hesitant to confront me because I was a doctor," Locnikar says. "We were in a $3- or $4-million house in Paradise Valley, with all the toys. When you see that on the outside, you think that somebody has it together."
At 3 in the morning on November 9, 2004, Locnikar was desperate for a fix as he sped downtown to buy cocaine. On the way, he totaled his Mercedes. Officers found syringes, vials of Versed, and other drug paraphernalia in his car, according to osteopathic board records.
The police notified the osteopathic board, which suspended Locnikar's license.
"Once I signed power of attorney, my wife sold the house and kept all the proceeds. I literally went from Paradise Valley to penniless," Locnikar says. "Within a very short period of time, I was homeless on the streets, pushing a shopping cart on Van Buren."
Months later, Locnikar's friends found him homeless, with no shoes or ID, in Tijuana, Mexico. "I don't even remember a lot of it. I was in a perpetual state of psychosis. I was finding spent needles on the ground, didn't eat for weeks at a time. Just shot up drugs."
Back in the States, Locnikar learned that his wife had divorced him. "At that point, no clothes, no shoes, as a homeless guy ready to die, I realized for the first time that I had a problem. I lost tens of millions of dollars, my family, every tangible thing in life. I watched all of it go away without even realizing what happened."
In January 2006, the osteopathic board revoked Locnikar's license for the second time because of his substance abuse. Under Arizona law, he was allowed to re-apply in January. He did.
Locnikar expects to have his license back soon. If that happens, the MAP program will stop testing him for drugs five years from now. Locnikar knows his propensity to relapse again and claims he'll continue paying $65 a day for random drug tests, even after the board stops requiring them.
"There's something about the thought of the random test that motivates somebody," Locnikar says.
Gary Blass was a successful emergency room doctor. He and his wife, Carlee, a ballet teacher, moved to Arizona in 1994, shortly after Blass finished his residency at Episcopal Hospital in Philadelphia.