After a crack addiction derailed his medical career, Dr. John Young got a handle on life by helping stray cats and working with recovering addicts.
In late 2002, Dr. John Young called the wrong number and changed his life.
He dialed what he thought was the number for the Ontario Medical Association, asking to enrol in their substance abuse treatment program for physicians.
By mistake, he called the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario — the regulator which can revoke a doctor’s licence to practise medicine in Ontario.
“My head was kind of swimming in cocaine at the time,” Young said, explaining his misdial.
Young was a drug addict. At first, it was cocaine. Then, after his dealer was arrested, he turned to crack because it was more readily available.
“You can’t get powder on the street,” Young said.
As his life began to unravel — missing appointments with patients, mortgaging his house — Young realized he needed help.
“I knew I had a problem — a big problem,” he said.
That’s when he called his fateful wrong number.
The headquarters of the college of physicians was mere blocks away from Young’s medical practice on Yonge St. They immediately sent somebody over, paperwork in hand, to shut down his practice.
“That was actually life-saving,” said Young, now 56.
“Recovering from addiction is a lot about having consequences,” he said. “If I don’t stop using, I’m going to lose my licence.”
Road to recovery
Growing up in North York, Young was single-minded in his goal: become a doctor.
No one in his family was in medicine. His father, a lifelong TTC worker, and the rest of his family encouraged Young to follow his passion for the sciences.
“I had the smarts,” Young said.
Inspired by his high school biology teacher, Young studied science, then medicine, at the University of Toronto. He completed his postgraduate studies and internships in 1983, and opened a family practice in Mississauga.
Unfulfilled with the repetition of family medicine, Young moved to downtown Toronto in 1989 and set up his own psychotherapy clinic.
A couple years after that, he started doing cocaine.
Young still can’t really say why.
“I’d experimented with other drugs before, but I’d never ever had a problem,” he said.
Part of the reason was access — Young, who is gay, said he was frequenting bathhouses.
“There’s lots of drugs in the gay lifestyle,” he said.
His cocaine use went from recreational to frequent in 2001, and then went rapidly downhill.
Many of his friends and family knew he had a drug problem, Young said. But they couldn’t convince him to seek help.
“One of the parts of addiction is denial of the condition,” he said. “On some level, I knew I had a problem. But I believed I could handle it. I believed it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. On and on and on.”
After the College of Physicians intervened, Young enrolled in the medical association’s Physician Health Program.
His road to recovery was not a smooth one. Young went to five different treatment centres, travelling to Ottawa, London and Waterloo.
But he kept relapsing — returning to crack after he finished a treatment program, on weekends, and even on the same day when he was in a half-day program.
It took a scare to finally keep him clean.
In January 2006, Young was threatened by a dealer when he didn’t have the money to pay. Young escaped, but learned the same dealer threw the next customer off the top floor of the townhouse, leaving him a quadriplegic.
“That kind of was like — ‘OK, I don’t want to die.’ I gotta stop,” Young said.
For 14 years, Young has lived in a modest house in Riverdale. The Don Jail looms at the end of his street.
He co-owns the property, and mortgaged his share to help pay his drug debts — he estimated he spent $150,000.
At the side entrance of Young’s house is a heating mat he bought for three stray cats.
As part of his recovery program, Young needed to find service work, some way to give back to his community.
He found his cause in November 2012, when a black-and-white cat named Panda was shot to death with a pellet gun in the city’s east end.
“Who would shoot a cat?” Young said, incredulously.
Young started a Facebook page in Panda’s memory. The organization has evolved into the WatchCat Coalition, an online resource dedicated to helping Toronto’s stray cats.
Young aims to bring attention to cats that have been mistreated or need to be adopted, such as in the case of cat hoarders.
“The stories that I’m writing and finding now are as much about the people as they are about the cats,” Young said.
Young has also returned to psychotherapy, specializing in addiction treatment.
With the help and encouragement of the addiction specialist he worked with, Young was recertified by the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2011, with the restriction that he cannot prescribe any narcotics or controlled drugs.
Young now works with patients at the Good Shepherd and Fred Victor shelters. He is open about his own struggles.
“I let them know I’m in recovery. I let them know I was a crackhead,” he said. “Then they know that I’m not judging them, and that I may have some experience that they may want to draw on.”
For all that he’s been through, Young said he’s happier now than he’s ever been.
“They say in 12-step programs that when you’re in good recovery, you won’t regret it,” he said. “If that’s what I have to go through to get to where I am now, that’s OK.” Article Link…