Bob Garrity, 52, Cleveland, attorney and drug counselor
Bob Garrity was addicted to heroin, alcohol and so many pills it would take an hour to name them all. But he can.
He worked as a pharmacist — until his addiction landed him in prison and cost him his pharmacy license.
See him now and you’d say, “Not that guy. No way he’s a heroin addict, a guy who did time.”
His story is proof that the stereotype of the American addict is like a drunk who swears he doesn’t have a problem. Delusional. Dead wrong. And desperately in need of intervention.
Like a lot of kids in college in the ’70s, Garrity smoked pot and experimented with other drugs.
By the time he was a junior at the University of Wisconsin — the college he picked because of its reputation as a party school — he was guzzling a can of Special Export for breakfast to get rid of his shakes. On weekends he added cocaine, LSD and mushrooms. That got him through college and pharmacy school.
When Garrity graduated in 1982, he headed home to Freeport, Ill., to work at the family drugstore, where he helped himself to all kinds of painkillers.
“Whatever I could get away with taking without getting noticed,” he says.
And nobody noticed — until 1987.
That year, a cop pulled him over for speeding. Garrity was charged with possession of narcotics. A felony. His sentence: outpatient treatment.
As soon as it was over, Garrity picked up where he’d left off. He took pills in the morning to wind himself up and pills at night to calm himself down. He checked into a residential treatment program when his wife threatened to leave.
Three months later, Garrity moved back home just as his wife was moving out. The only thing she left behind was a six-pack. Garrity downed it in five minutes.
For the next five years, treatment became his vacation. Every 10 months or so, he’d pack his bags and head to a center to get his family off his back.
By 1993, his 11th year as a pharmacist, he was buying heroin and crack off the street. The day his second wife moved in, he told her he needed to go into treatment. He completed one week of detox, then started another round of outpatient treatment — four nights a week this time.
It went perfectly for Garrity. The center would call 24 hours ahead to tell him they’d be testing his urine and he’d take his dog out to the back yard with a baking pan. The dog only looked at Garrity funny the first time he slid the pan under his leg.
Garrity poured the urine into a bladder bag he taped to his stomach along with a couple of hand warmers. He didn’t want cold urine raising suspicions.
Garrity finished that round of treatment and was arrested for cocaine possession, another felony. This time the judge sent him to jail for 30 days. His dad locked him out of the drugstore. And the pharmacy board suspended his license for six months.
Afterward, he followed his wife to Wisconsin, hoping to save his marriage — it didn’t work — and took a job at a mail-order pharmacy that sold only female hormones.
“You’re safe there,” everybody told Garrity. “If you start stealing those drugs, it will be pretty apparent.”
He stayed clean and sober for a year. But he realized working as a pharmacist wasn’t for him and, in 1996, applied to law school. Three years later, still not using, he graduated cum laude from Cleveland State University and passed the bar exam, the only bar he’d ever passed in his life.
That year, Garrity began practicing law and, with his pharmacy license back, working as a fill-in pharmacist for a drugstore chain. When other employees noticed his was behaving erratically, the store installed cameras and caught Garrity stealing pills.
The judge sent him to prison for six months. The Ohio Supreme Court suspended his law license indefinitely. The Ohio pharmacy board revoked his pharmacy license for good. And Garrity went to work for a friend installing carpet.
Then a treatment center took him on as a volunteer.
He started over again. He took a day job as a law clerk and began a master’s degree in social work at night. He finished the coursework in 2006 and became a full-time counselor at Y-Haven, a YMCA program that helps homeless men overcome addiction. While he was there, the Ohio Supreme Court gave him his law license back.
Last year, Garrity left Y-Haven to start his own law firm. He specializes in criminal defense and helping health care professionals regain the licenses they’ve lost because of alcohol or drugs.
He has a girlfriend now. He lectures lawyers about avoiding addiction. And a few times a week, he helps other addicts figure out what kind of treatment they need.
“Everything,” he says, “came together perfectly.”