Robert Tollard, 41, first snorted cocaine in the conference room of a major Wall Street brokerage firm where he was senior vice president. For the next seven years, he often made instant decisions on multimillion-dollar trades while he was high.
Tollard -- whose name, like those of other cocaine users in this article, has been changed to protect his privacy -- started using about two grams of cocaine each week, buying it from employes and limousine drivers. Eventually, he was using an ounce or more a week. Tollard, who earned more than $1 million in a good year, estimated that he spent more than $100,000 annually to support his habit.
He had become a new breed of junkie -- the executive addict.
"Cocaine is a very performance-oriented drug, and the typical executive is a sucker for that," says Dr. Jeffrey S. Rosecan, director of the Cocaine Abuse Treatment Program at New York's Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. "It's a fine line between thinking cocaine helps you perform and feeling you can't perform without it. Executives, in particular, cross that line early in use."
Robert Tollard crossed that line almost immediately. He would snort the drug in his office or in the bathroom. Tollard wasn't the only cocaine abuser at his firm.
"It was so bad that people used to joke that you had to make reservations to get into the men's room," he says. "It was fashionable. I liked the camaraderie."
Cocaine is not confined to the nation's baseball diamonds and glamor industries. One of every 10 Americans has tried cocaine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. There are an estimated 5 million to 6 million cocaine users. Many of them, experts say, use the drug in the workplace. In a survey of 500 callers to 800-COCAINE -- a national "helpline" for people who have problems with, and questions about, cocaine -- 92 percent said they worked while under the influence of the drug.
Snorted, smoked or injected, cocaine is increasingly popular among executives, Rosecan says. Between one third and one half of executives under 50 have tried it, he estimates.
Cocaine is well-suited to the corporate world. Stored in a tiny vial, it can be sniffed inconspicuously and doesn't cause bloodshot eyes, breath odor or other tell-tale signs.
"Cocaine is very acceptable -- sometimes more than alcohol, since it doesn't make you a blithering idiot," says Dr. Anne Geller, director of Smithers Alcoholism Treatment and Training Center at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital in New York.
Cocaine's popularity has increased in the workplace, say experts, as the children of the '60s have climbed the corporate ladder, bringing with them a casual attitude towards drugs.
"I had experimented with drugs in college," says former cocaine addict Larry Katz, 34, president of a New York importing and exporting business. "I didn't think of drugs as evil or something I couldn't control. Coke gives you a feeling of omnipotence and being on top; this is a very nice thing to have in 1985."
Jeff Tosch, 28, is a bond broker who earns more than $100,000 a year. He began using cocaine in college.
Tosch, who can make or lose up to $250,000 in one day for his firm, says he is sometimes offered drugs after work by representatives of brokerage firms. Five different independent brokerage companies compete for his business, which could mean $25,000 a day in commissions for them.
"The only way they can compete is by entertaining you," says Tosch. "On an average night, when you want to go out, they pick you up in a limousine, take you to the best restaurant, order the best wines, pick up the tab, and offer you coke."
Tosch, however, says he does not use their cocaine, because the quality is not as good as his own. "What I get is probably the best cocaine that anybody has ever seen in New York," says Tosch, who sells coke to "15 friends." "Selling is a very benevolent type of thing. It's almost more of a service -- something I do for my friends."
Tosch says he uses cocaine to get extra energy. "You just can't work from 8 to 5 under pressure and have your mind work smoothly at 11:30 at night, so you use coke," he says.
Many experts say people use cocaine because of its glamor. "It's a drug that's associated with status and stardom," says Rosecan. "The myth is constantly reinforced -- coke is the champagne of drugs, the all-American drug."
The myth includes the notion that cocaine offers a safe, non-addictive high. "There was supposed to be nothing harmful," says businessman Katz, who describes groveling naked on his bedroom floor at the height of his addiction, looking for fallen grains of coke. "So I figured, why not use it if I can afford it?"
As Katz learned and as NIDA announced last year, cocaine is dangerous and "powerfully addictive." Physicians say cocaine, linked to cardiac arrests, seizures and strokes, can kill.
"It's hard for people to conceptualize how a drug that produces this wonderful euphoria can be so lethal and so addicting," says Rosecan. "Cocaine is a time bomb -- it creates a need for itself."
This need can be overwhelming. Patti Gordon, 29, after seven years of using the drug, depleted her finances so completely that her apartment had only a mattress on the floor. "Each time I did a line, I'd need another line and another line -- until I had done my whole paycheck," she says. "I would do just about anything for another line."
For executives, that need is often easy to satisfy, at least initially. "Executive addicts have control -- they can leave the office, make bogus appointments, shift responsibilities to employes," says Dr. Mark S. Gold, director of research at Fair Oaks Hospital in Summit, New Jersey and founder of the cocaine hotline.
In a hotline survery, upper-income cocaine-users -- whose average annual income was $83,000 -- used 15 grams of the drug weekly. Middle-income users, with a mean income of $28,000, used an average of 8.2 grams a week. The wealthy chronic users also have more health problems, including a higher incidence of cocaine-related car accidents and cocaine-induced brain seizures.
Even when executive addicts are detected in the workplace, little may change. "The higher up the ladder you go, the less likely you are to be confronted about a drug problem," says Dr. Jay Hauge, director of Chemical Dependency Services at St. Mary's Hospital in Minneapolis.
Getting an executive to recognize that he or she has a drug problem is a major hurdle. "The rich, near famous, and powerful tend to see drug use in context of entitlement -- they're entitled to drug use as part of their success," says Gold. "They believe they can control it, though others cannot."
When an executive does acknowledge a drug problem, he or she may not see the need for treatment. "Asking for help is an alien concept," says Gold. "Executives think they'll do this themselves. They did other things that people said they weren't likely to do, and they'll do this, too."
Reasons that prompt some addicts to seek help may have little effect on executives. "Fear about disgrace and what the family or neighbors think are common concerns of the middle class that are rarely voiced by the CEO chief executive officer ," says Gold. "These people are afraid that stock prices will be hurt or that they'll never work effectively again."
When executive addicts do seek treatment, it's often because of a disaster -- like losing their money or job. Sometimes the executive seeks help because, like Tollard, he is afraid he's dying.
"I was afraid of everything," says Tollard, who came from a wealthy family, went to an Ivy League college, attended Wharton Business School and landed a prestigous job. "The Federal Express man would come and I couldn't answer the door."
Married 18 years, he maintained an apartment in New York and a five-acre home in Connecticut. But he started using cocaine and stopped coming home. He would hop on a plane and spend a day in the Bahamas, or fly to San Francisco for dinner, or hire a helicopter so he and his friends could have cocktails over the East River.
Eventually Tollard stopped doing everything, including going to work. And he started feeling scared. He separated from his wife, lost his job, went through his money, gained 70 pounds and started having heart palpitations.
About two years ago, Tollard sought help at the Stuyvesant Square Chemical Dependency Program at Beth Isreal Hospital in New York. He has been off drugs for the last 15 months. He now earns $500,000 a year as a vice president at another major Wall Street firm, where he was hired by a recovering addict.
Tollard sees addiction as a life-long problem. He's in therapy, he attends a self-help group and leads another group for recovering addicts. But, he admits, "if you put a big tray in front of me, and one half had everything I ever wanted in life -- a beautiful wife, kids, success -- and the second half had a bottle of vodka and a kilo of coke, I might take that second half." Getting Help
Cocaine helpline, 800-COCAINE, is a toll-free hotline to a 24 hour a day, nationwide referral and information service about cocaine.