When Medicine and Drug Abuse Collide

Written by on May 3, 2012 in Features - No comments

By Jared More

Drug abuse in the workplace can be a big concern in any occupation, but what about when the addict is a doctor, or more specifically, an anesthesiologist? Some may think that this group of employees should understand the risks and dangers of controlled substances better than anyone. After all, they deal with these drugs everyday and have studied them in depth. However, this may be the exact reason some doctors are able to successfully support a drug habit without getting caught. Their easy access to the powerful drugs they are exposed to every day may lead to curiosity and cravings for the drug. In addition, these physicians see the positive results patients experience with the drugs. And because they know the symptoms of drug abuse and how to hide them, they can reduce their risk of getting caught.

Anesthesiologists and drug abuse

A recent study examined the risk of anesthesiologists being exposed to low levels of drugs through patients exhaling them or through the skin. While more research is being done on this subject, it could be argued that a doctor’s the constant exposure to such substances could easily drive them to try it. Many anesthesiologists who are addicts started using drugs when they were under the stress of their residency training period and were not experienced enough with their profession to say “no” to the temptation. It’s easy to become addicted to such powerful drugs as these vulnerable doctors seldom “just try them once.” Even though the number of anesthesiologist residents who are drug abusers is low – as few as 2 percent – the drugs they use some of the most powerful intravenous drugs available and are potentially lethal because of their addictive nature. Additional problems result from anesthesiologists drug abuse is because they are so educated about the controlled substances they may be able to cheat on drug tests to keep from getting caught. The chances of an anesthesiologist making it through treatment and going back to their work are not very good; one out of nine will end up dying from relapse and subsequent addiction. And the public safety issue is very concerning – how do we ensure that those responsible for our lives are sober when treating us?

Solutions for hospitals

Some hospitals have taken measures to detect drug abuse among staff, including urine drug tests and strict monitoring of controlled substances being taken out of stock. While these may be useful tools to help keep people honest, some argue that hospitals should focus more on prevention instead of punishment. All staff training should include drug addiction awareness, and stress reduction practices should be taught. Perhaps if we focus on the well-being of individuals before they feel the need to turn to substances we can prevent the abuse in the first place.

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