Former NYPD Officer Shares Recovery Journey

By Victoria Kim 07/31/19

"If life was fair, I’d be dead 10 times over. I don’t know how I’m walking and talking or even alive,” the former NYPD officer told CNN.

Former NYPD Officer

The New York Police Department is grappling with what Police Commissioner James O’Neill has called a “mental health crisis,” after the department lost a seventh officer this year to suicide this past Sunday (July 28).

Law enforcement officers are not immune to substance abuse, but rather are more vulnerable to using drugs and alcohol to cope with the high-pressure situations they come across day after day.

Mark Restivo, a former NYPD police officer, has lived to tell his story. The 39-year-old chronicled his problem with prescription opioid abuse and his tenure as a New York City cop to CNN.

History Of Addiction

Restivo has lived with some form of problematic drug or alcohol use since he was young. He had his first shot of vodka when he was 14. “Looking back, I was an alcoholic… I just continued to go in, and I never really stopped,” he said.

At age 22, he was prescribed Vicodin after a root canal. “It kind of felt like my first drink,” he told CNN. “It was something that’s supposed to numb the pain and relax you, but it had the opposite effect on me. It was almost like speed for me. I was taking them quite frequently… as prescribed at first, and then once every six hours and then six every hour.”

He joined the NYPD in 2008 at the age of 28. “By that time, I had built up a tolerance,” he wrote for the New York Post. “Every day, I was taking anywhere from 50 to 70 Vicodins, 10 milligrams each—not to get high, but just keep from feeling sick.”

Restivo quit “cold turkey” on his first day of police academy, putting himself through painful withdrawals so he could get through training.

Just a year later in 2009, Restivo suffered injuries while chasing suspects in a subway station. “I got thrown down a flight of stairs, and I busted up my knee and my back.” Several surgeries and many doses of prescribed opioids later, in 2012, Restivo was forced to retire due to his injuries.

Drug Dealing In Retirement

Upon leaving the NYPD, Restivo turned to selling and using. “I had to feed my habit as best I could. I was constantly buying and selling and using pills. I went from a police officer to a drug dealer within a matter of months. I abused Adderall, cocaine, oxycodone, methadone and Suboxone.”

His police training helped make him a better drug dealer, avoiding detection and flashing his ID to get drugs.

“There were many moments where I was internally struggling with what I was doing,” he said. “I knew that I needed to stop this. I just did not know how to.”

He finally entered a treatment program in 2013 at the urging of his ex-wife. “She did for me what I was not able to do for myself.”

Restivo has now been sober for almost six years, and he is using his experience and recovery journey to inspire others. “I like to share that I was a police officer. It could be anybody. There’s no face to this addiction,” said Restivo.

"If life was fair, I’d be dead 10 times over. I don’t know how I’m walking and talking or even alive."

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr