Dr. Darryl Gebien lost everything to his fentanyl addiction — his marriage, his job as an ER doctor in Barrie and eight months of freedom when he was locked away for drug trafficking.
But Gebien, 49, wants to get back to practising medicine — and a disciplinary panel at the College of Physicians and Surgeons has just cleared the way.
While the college’s lawyer recommended that Gebien lose his licence, the committee decided instead to give him a 14-month suspension.
He must abide by strict conditions, which include a ban on prescribing opioids, entering into the Ontario Medical Association’s Physician Health Program and being monitored to ensure he stays in remission.
“I’m very happy, very relieved,” Gebien told the Toronto Sun. “I’ve been through hell and back.”
It’s quite the comeback story for a doctor who was incarcerated at Joyceville penitentiary just three years ago.
Gebien traces his drug addiction back to 2008 when his family doctor prescribed Percocet for his back pain.
He’s now the lead plaintiff in a $1.1-billion proposed class-action lawsuit that alleges almost two dozen pharmaceutical companies deceptively promoted opioids for pain relief knowing they were highly addictive.
The opioid overdose epidemic had cost thousands of lives. He was nearly one of them.
Gebien seemed to have it all — a good job as an ER doc at Barrie’s Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, a five-bedroom house on the waterfront complete with a dock and a boat.
In numerous media interviews and public speaking engagements, he describes how marriage and family troubles led him to rely more and more on opioids for emotional support, and not just pain relief.
Eventually, Gebien was secretly cutting fentanyl patches and smoking the highly potent drug up to 15 times a day.
To feed his increasing habit, the committee heard that he forged prescriptions on pads belonging to his unknowing colleagues, convinced three hospital employees to pick up bogus prescriptions he’d written for them and recruited family, friends and even strangers.
“I did some pretty horrible things and I hurt people,” Gebien told the disciplinary panel.
Arrested in 2015 after a pharmacist became suspicious, Gebien pleaded guilty in December 2016 to one count of forging 445 prescriptions for fentanyl patches and one count of trafficking. “The trafficking was to feed my habit, not to make money,” he explains, anxious to clarify. “People assume trafficking is dealing and this wasn’t.”
While the Crown asked for eight years, the judge sentenced Gebien in April 2017 to two years in a federal prison. He was released on parole eight months later.
Gebien had several in-patient stints in rehab and “a couple of relapses” — including one where his now ex-wife found him near death after overdosing in their basement shower stall.
The panel was told he’s in addiction treatment and following back surgery last September, he weaned himself off oxycodone and has been off all opioids since January.
“It is extremely serious for a person in his role as a physician to be convicted of trafficking narcotics. He abused his position as a physician to involve a number of colleagues, staff at the hospital and a patient in his pursuit of drugs,” the committee said.
“The fact that he continued to practise as an ER physician while using drugs was an aggravating factor.”
But they were impressed he’s now committed to his sobriety.
“While Dr. Gebien’s conduct was egregious, it occurred during a period of addiction, and Dr. Gebien has shown significant ability to rehabilitate since that time. There is no reason for the committee to doubt that Dr. Gebien’s positive rehabilitation will continue.”
Once reinstated, he hopes to treat patients with addictive disorders.
“It’s been a long, long road,” Gebien sighed. “There’s still a lot of shame, embarrassment, regrets. That will take a lifetime. But I’m working on it.”