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Caught with a Crutch: Some Attorneys Use Crystal Meth to Cope

Americans have a penchant for all things bigger, better, and faster. To fuel our lusts for extreme sports, extreme makeovers, and extreme homes, thousands of us make extreme commutes of 90 miles or more one-way to arrive at extreme jobs. In the article “Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek” published in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review, authors Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce write that extreme jobs demand more than just brutal working hours; extreme jobs involve working at least 60 hours per week in addition to managing at least five more performance pressures, such as required physical presence in the office at least 10 hours per day, tight deadlines demanding fast-paced activity, unpredictable flow of work, high level of responsibility, and round-the-clock availability to clients.

While these factors make some jobs “extreme,” they are all in a day’s work for the average attorney. Some attorneys throttling through their days and nights at breakneck speed love the ego boost and adrenaline rush of this go-go-go mentality. Others are burning through their emotional, physical, and spiritual reserves to meet superhuman demands. Still others have reached beyond the black and into the red, leaning on drugs, alcohol, and other addictions to fuel the workplace frenzy.

  
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Methamphetamine, in particular, is fast becoming one of the most abused drugs in this country. It is being used and abused in a range of chemical states by teens, college and graduate students, middle-aged housewives, truck drivers, and even highly paid attorneys. Crystal d-methamphetamine hydrochloride (commonly known as “crystal meth,” “crystal,” or “meth”) is the crystalline form of methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant drug often used recreationally as a party drug. Crystal meth induces a state of hyper-alertness similar to that induced by drinking a cup of coffee yet compounded many times over. As work pressures rise and attorneys are forced to work harder for longer periods of time, statistics are showing a corollary rise in illicit drug use. According to data released by Quest Diagnostics, a national drug-testing company, crystal meth use in the workforce is becoming more common, and the drug is poised to surpass cocaine as the illegal stimulant of choice.

One bright, talented, and troubled attorney learned the hard way that working in a law firm can require a price that can be neither fueled nor suppressed by any amount of drugs. Rich Merritt was a Captain in the United States Marine Corps who was living a double life. Merritt was gay, and while he had not openly disclosed his homosexuality, he appeared in eight adult films for gay men that were produced while he was on active duty. Just weeks before he was honorably discharged in 1998, The New York Times Magazine published a cover story profiling Merritt, entitled “The Shadow Life of a Gay Marine.” Merritt’s picture appeared on the cover, although his face was hidden under his salute.

With his double life threatened but still intact, Merritt entered the University of Southern California School of Law hoping for a fresh start and success as a prominent attorney. However, while Merritt was in law school, two articles that blew his cover appeared in The Advocate, a news magazine profiling the gay community. One article exposed Merritt’s identity as a former gay Marine officer, and the other revealed his appearances in gay porn.

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Merritt said the exposure was devastating. He sank into a deep, clinical depression and began using drugs, including ecstasy, cocaine, and crystal meth, to cope. As the pressures of law school mounted, so did his drug use. Yet in spite of his growing drug habit, Merritt managed to land a position as a summer associate at a major law firm, perform well enough there to receive an offer of full-time employment, graduate from law school, and pass the bar exam.

While Merritt was able to hide his drug use during law school, things began to spin out of control after he began working full time. “After only practicing for four months, I began to realize I hated what I was doing,” Merritt said. “The hours, the pressure-I knew I wasn’t going to make it.”





 

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