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The issue of physicians struggling with active addiction

Addiction is a disease that is ravaging our country. Like most other diseases, addiction does not discriminate. We often hear about the fatal heroin overdoses that claim young people in their teens and twenties. But alcohol and other drugs – both legal and illegal – are slowly and secretly killing victims of all ages and professions, including physicians.

Obviously, drug and alcohol abuse can lead to dangerous impairment at work. But for the 10 percent of American doctors thought to be struggling with active addiction to drugs or alcohol, the stakes are much higher. Hospitals have a responsibility to closely monitor their physicians for signs of drug and alcohol abuse and to take them out of practice before intoxication and impairment lead to serious medical errors.

Regulatory agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration have stringent drug-testing policies for pilots. This includes subjecting pilots to random drug tests as well as drug testing pilots who have been involved in accidents resulting in one or more fatalities. California legislators are currently considering a program for medical professionals based on the FAA’s drug-testing model.

The need for such a model is made clearer by certain high-profile cases of seemingly drug-related medical malpractice. One such case currently being played out involves a former neurosurgeon based in Texas. He has been accused of using drugs and alcohol on the job, including prior to performing surgeries. Two patients died while on his operating table and about a dozen others say they were paralyzed as a result of botched surgeries he may have performed while intoxicated.

To be clear, alcoholism and drug addiction are treatable. Physicians can recover from addiction and go on to become incredible medical professionals. But while they are in active addiction, physicians are a danger to themselves and others. As such, they need to be removed from practice until or unless they get the recovery help they need.

Source: NBC Today, "Is your doctor stoned? Physicians with substance abuse problems continue to work," Jeff Rossen and Charlie McLravy, June 16, 2014

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