The newest true crime series from Netflix, “How to Fix a Drug Scandal,” was released on April 1, 2020. It features the true story of Sonja Farak, a former state drug lab chemist in Massachusetts who was arrested in 2013 for consuming the drugs she was supposed to test and tampering with the evidence to cover up her tracks.
The show also delves into the issues of the state in discovering and reporting on the extent of the cases that were affected by Farak’s actions. Farak admitted in testimony that she began using drugs almost as soon as she started working at the Massachusetts State Crime Lab in Amherst. She was sentenced in 2014 to 18 months in prison and 5 years of probation.
Here’s what you need to know about Sonja Farak:
1. She Was Born in 1978 & Raised in Portsmouth, Rhode Island
Farak was born on January 13, 1978, in Rhode Island to Stanley and Linda Farak. She grew up in Portsmouth with her sister Amy.
According to a newspaper article from 1992, she was the first female in Rhode Island to be on a high school football team. “It’s no big deal,” 14-year-old Farak said to the Panama City News Herald. She played as the starting guard for Portsmouth High School’s freshman team. According to her teammates, “She was the best center in the league last year,” and they “[felt] stronger with her in there than with some guys.”
After her arrest, she received support from her parents, who showed up to her court appearances, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported.
2. She Graduated With Distinction & Started Working for a State Lab Soon After
After graduating from Portsmouth High School, Farak attended the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she got a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry in 2000. According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Farak graduated with awards and distinctions.
She received the American Institute of Chemists Award in her final year as well as a Crimson and Gray Award from the school a year before, which recognized her “dedication, commitment and unselfishness in the enrichment of student life at WPI.” A Rolling Stone piece on Farak also indicated that she graduated with “high distinction” from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
According to an Attorney General Office’s report, Farak attended Temple University in Philadelphia for graduate school, which is where she became a recreational drug user.
She started working shortly after for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in July 2003 until July 2012, and from July 2012 until January 2013 for the Massachusetts State Police when the lab fell under their jurisdiction. She first worked at the Hinton State Laboratory in Jamaica Plain for a year as a bacteriologist working on HIV tests before she transferred to the Amherst Lab for drug analysis.
3. She Struggled With Depression & Suicidal Thoughts Throughout Her Early Life
According to a Rolling Stone piece on Farak, she struggled with depression from an early age, one that “hasn’t responded to medication.” They wrote that Farak attempted suicide in high school and was also hospitalized while in college.
During her trial, her defense lawyer Elaine Pourinski said that Farak wasn’t taking drugs to party, but instead to control her depression. She said, “It was about coping; it certainly wasn’t about having fun; I don’t think she’s had fun in quite a while.”
Even though Farak found a job after graduation and was settled down with her partner, she continued to struggle with depression and felt like a stranger in her body. She continued to experience suicidal thoughts, but instead of going through with those thoughts, she started taking the drugs that she would be testing at work.
4. She Had Used Drugs Prior to Working at the State Lab
The Amherst Bulletin reported that her medical records indicated that she only became addicted to drugs once she started working at the lab, in 2004. The medical records stated that she did not have an existing drug problem that was amplified by her access to more substances.
Her medical records included notes from Farak’s therapist in Amherst, Anna Kogan. Farak saw Kogan in 2009 and 2010, and her therapist wrote: “She obtains the drugs from her job at the state drug lab, by taking portions of samples that have come in to be tested.”
Kogan also wrote that Farak told her she had taken methamphetamines at another lab in an old job, but she “didn’t get much from it.” Kogan wrote that “after moving to western [Massachusetts] for her job at the state drug lab, [Farak] tried it again and ‘really liked it. I felt euphoric,’” Kogan wrote of Farak. According to the notes, Farak “thought it gave her energy, helped her to ‘get things done and not procrastinate,’ feel more positive.”
Her partner Nikki Lee testified before a grand jury that “she herself had tried cocaine, that she had observed Farak using cocaine in 2000, and that she had marijuana in her house when police officers arrived to search the premises as part of their investigation of Farak.”
In Farak’s testimony during a grand jury investigation, she said that she became a recreational drug user during graduate school and used “cocaine, marihuana, and ecstasy.” She also said she used heroin one time and “was nervous and sick and hated every minute of it [and had] no desire to use [it] again.”
5. She Married Nikki Lee During Her 20s
Farak met and settled down with Nikki Lee in her 20s. She married Lee after starting her job, but their marriage was rocky. Farak’s wife had her own mental health problems, and according to Rolling Stone, Farak would have conflict with her wife every night at home. They wrote that Lee, “disabled by a stew of mental ailments, [spent] her hours surfing the Web in a haze.”
Farak’s therapist, Anna Kogan, wrote in her notes that Farak was worried about Nikki finding out about her addiction as well as the possible legal issues if she were ever caught. It’s unclear if Farak is still with Lee, as they have both remained out of the public eye since the case.
Farak also had an apparent obsession for her therapist’s husband, as she was reported to have a folder that she’d put together about him, documenting her obsession.