Anesthesiology professor’s novel highlights opioid addictions


Steven Orebaugh, professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine and critical care medicine, published his second novel — “The Stairs on Billy Buck Hill” — in January 2022. The book spreads awareness of the influence that opioids have on medical professionals who work in close proximity to them.

Orebaugh was an emergency room doctor at South Side Hospital — now the UPMC Mercy South Side Outpatient Center — before transitioning to anesthesiology in 2002. He also served in the Navy for 20 years and attended the University of Pittsburgh as an undergraduate.

As a practicing anesthesiologist, Orebaugh said, “We and several other acute-care professions, like dentistry and pharmaceuticals, are at very high risk to become addicted to opioids because we deal with these drugs all the time.”

The book describes Kurt McCain, an accomplished anesthesiologist who falls for Lauren, a financial analyst with an opioid addiction. Using opioids is against McCain’s principles, but Lauren convinces him to start using the pills occasionally in the evenings. She then offers him fentanyl, which can be very addictive and deadly if not used properly.

McCain begins to siphon off fentanyl from his patients, and drug havoc begins to infringe on his ability to do his job. He starts to use the drug while working because of the pressure to perform better. When his wife and employers find out he's using the drug at work, he loses his job, his relationships, and everything he has worked for.

Orebaugh wanted to write this book because “people need to know the power that opioids have. Anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists administer these drugs every day to patients. There are very tight checks and balances to make sure that people don’t begin to take them for their own use, but it’s a great temptation. These drugs have a really powerful influence over people, so once experienced, people have a hard time turning away from them.”

He has witnessed some of his peers’ careers ruined because they indulged in opioids. “I experienced this with about six or seven different people in my life, most of whom I had no idea were using these drugs. Then one day someone found out they were using, and they just disappeared from my life.”

In his book, Orebaugh shows there are paths to redemption for professionals who are caught using opioids. They can get their licenses back after going through stringent legal limitation processes. McCain goes through some difficult times to reset his life, which gives him a new mindset.

Reflecting on the book, Orebaugh said, “This is definitely my proudest publication. I’m an amateur, and I do this in my spare time. I have probably written and rewritten this book eight times, so eventually I became pretty happy with it.”

“The Stairs on Billy Buck Hill” is available for purchase on Amazon and Sunbury Press.

Caroline Bielen is a student writer for the University Times.