Jeff Gold, PharmD, has a name fit for the bright lights, whether it’s the lights of a film crew, or the lights of a professional wrestling match. Those film lights found him for the Netflix documentary, “Take Your Pills: Xanax”, as he is a leading psychiatric pharmacist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado and a specialist on medications like Xanax and other benzodiazepines.
Dr. Gold has authored the benzodiazepine taper guidelines, ran the benzodiazepine tapering clinic at the VA, as well as presented at a number of conferences about benzodiazepines, how to taper benzodiazepines, and how to manage complex situations involving benzodiazepines.
Dr. Gold featured in the Netflix documentary, "Take Your Pills: Xanax."
“The producer of the (Netflix) documentary, Maria Shriver, reached out to me and said my name had come up in a number of searches,” Dr. Gold explained. “I was also referred by Dr. Alexis Ritvo, an addiction psychiatrist for the CU School of Medicine.”
He believed appearing in the documentary would not only raise awareness about benzodiazepines and the risks involved with taking them, but also about the important role pharmacists play in patients care.
“I have prescriptive authority through the VA and I have a DEA number so I can prescribe medications in an outpatient clinic including prescribing or de-prescribing benzodiazepines, so it was also a great opportunity, I felt, to highlight what pharmacists can do in terms of our scope of practice and how we can help patients,” Dr. Gold described.
The documentary examines the widely prescribed anti-anxiety medication, Xanax, and talks to patients about their experiences, as well as experts on what the drug is and how it works in the body. While watching Dr. Gold’s performance in the documentary, you might come away from it thinking he rehearsed his lines multiple times, but in fact, he didn’t rehearse a single comment.
“They basically facilitated the interview as though we were just having a chat in a living room with old friends and it felt so easy and at times, I would lose track that this was an interview for a Netflix documentary because we really just got into a deep and meaningful conversation,” Dr. Gold said.
Blazing the Way for Psychiatric Pharmacists in Colorado
After graduating from the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (CU Pharmacy) in 2007, Dr. Gold went on to work at the VA with a group of psychiatrists. He became board certified in psychiatry and after several years, he was able to work with a psychiatrist to be proctored for a scope of practice, meaning he operates like a psychiatrist. That resulted in him having prescriptive authority through the VA, where he can prescribe medications and do mental health evaluations.
He became the first pharmacist in the state to have prescriptive authority in psychiatry and from that point he started a post-graduate year 2 psychiatric pharmacy practice residency at the VA and grew it from him being the only psychiatric pharmacist to now having 14. Fourteen psychiatric pharmacists who are board certified, have scopes of practice, manage their own clinics, and the vast majority of them having a DEA number, which allows them to prescribe controlled substances.
“We (the 14 psychiatric pharmacists) are one of the biggest psychiatric pharmacy programs in the VA and I am really proud of that and how well integrated we are in the mental health team there,” Dr. Gold explained.
Dr. Gold has taken his pharmacy and psychiatric experiences and philosophies to really connect with his patients so they understand why they take the medications that they do, that they believe in the medications and treatments that he provides, and that they feel that when they are with him at a mental health appointment, they can say whatever they feel and be whoever and however they are.
“I have the philosophy that the pill is us. Meaning how the patient feels about you (the provider) will affect how they respond to the treatments that we provide,” Dr. Gold described. “So, in my clinic at the VA, I try to build close connections with the veterans and patients that I work with.”
When Dr. Gold started getting into his healthcare career, he realized that he was at his best when he was more engaged with people and getting to know them. Every day in his current role he has the opportunity to understand his patients’ lives and help them find themselves in the vast cosmic dark and help find their way through the things that are challenging.
“Let’s face it, life is difficult for everybody, and we all struggle each in our own unique way and when we feel safe and listened to, it brings out the best in us, and brings out the most that we are capable of,” Dr. Gold said. “And I think to myself, how can I do a good job today to take care of the veterans, take care of the patients, take care of my colleagues and pharmacy trainees, as they find their way too.”
Side Business Wrestling
Dr. Gold owns and operates New Era Pro Wrestling and plays a character named Dr. Silver. Photo taken from New Era Pro Wrestling's website.
When he isn’t in his clinic or working with patients, Dr. Gold owns and operates a local professional wrestling company called New Era Pro Wrestling. It’s a family friendly operation that brings people from all over the Denver-metro area together. Through his company, he has raised money for charity, like the Epilepsy Foundation, ran a toy drive for the holidays, and a canned food drive for people in need.
“It’s been a neat way to give back to the community and as owner of the company I want to engender the staff, wrestlers and all the different people who are involved in the production of the show,” Dr. Gold explained.
The contrast between his day job and his side business has been a refreshing break for Dr. Gold and given him an opportunity to use his brain in a different, more creative way.
“It’s been a real joy and it’s nice to engage in something that is fun and relatively speaking unimportant,” Dr. Gold described. “There’s nothing so trivial as people pretending to fight each other over made-up drama, which is a nice contrast with my professional life where it’s really intense and at times quite sad.”
Polishing Gold to Let it Shine
While Dr. Gold wasn’t sure exactly what his career would look like, he knew that he wanted to work in healthcare and wanted to help people. He decided to attend CU Pharmacy because of its great reputation and upon graduation he reflected on his experience and was grateful for how well prepared the school made him for his next steps.
“I really felt focused on as a person and that the professors invested in me as a professional, helped me learn how to become a better professional, and taught me how to think and practice from an evidenced-based medicine standpoint,” Dr. Gold explained. “I am so grateful to the many professors I worked with, many of them still work with CU Pharmacy today like Dr. Saseen, Dr. Page, Dr. Valdez, Dr. Borgelt, Dr. Linnebur, Dr. Bainbridge, and Dr. Paulsen, who passed away.”
His experiences with the CU Pharmacy faculty and classes helped shape him into the pharmacist that he is today and his message to future and current pharmacy students is to learn from everybody and understand why each person interacts the way they do with people.
“My advice to pharmacy students would be to be open minded and curious as you’re going to have to work with all sorts of different people in school, in training and throughout your career,” Dr. Gold concluded. “Your job is to build your best practice that you are proud of and at the end of the day you feel good about.”