Known by patients and colleagues as “Dr. Harry,” Harry L. Haroutunian “was an old-fashioned country doctor,” says the Boston native of the years he spent in family practice in Vermont, often making house calls.
He also ran an active sports medicine practice, but his focus changed when he visited Rancho Mirage’s Betty Ford Center as a patient: He was concerned about his relationship with alcohol, and knew his family was “riddled with alcoholism.”
“I just fell in love with the practice of addiction medicine and the Betty Ford Center and the folks out here and decided it was time to shift gears.”
After completing his personal program, Haroutunian began volunteering and, since 2006, has been the center’s physician director of Day Treatment, Clinical Diagnostic Evaluation, and the Professionals Program. Still, he stays in the trenches. “I am a hands-on physician. I deal directly with counselors and patients in all that I do.”
Many of the patients Haroutunian sees are addicted to illicit drugs and prescription medications, but often are dealing with another addiction that he says costs the most lives (and money) in the long run: nicotine. “We always try to intervene and give people strategies to get off cigarettes … It doesn’t make much sense to go through intensive treatment for heroin or alcohol and then die of cigarettes.”
A book author, Haroutunian also runs a local concierge addiction practice where he sees patients from all over the world. Often, they are high-profile people unwilling to enter a traditional residential treatment center. Haroutunian and his team work with patients in their homes or arrange for other discreet accommodation. “We’ll have four or five counselors working on one patient,” he says. Eventually, he helps them maintain their sobriety via technology like Skype.
Haroutunian says his biggest challenge is “convincing people that [addiction is] a chronic disease that is treatable, not curable, and must be treated for life. As soon as they let up on their recovery discipline … the disease looks for a crack in the armor and will find its way back into that person’s life.”
VIDEO: Dr. Harry L. Haroutunian talks about his passion for helping others.