Often times when people hear the term drug abuse they think of common street drugs…
The Troubling Extent of Physician Prescription Drug Abuse
When it comes to prescription drug abuse, doctors are probably not the first people you think of, but they should be. The rates of prescription drug abuse are higher among physicians than the general population. It’s a serious problem because we trust our doctors to be able to care for us and make the best decisions for our health, and drug abuse impairs that ability. Just how many doctors are getting hooked on prescription drugs and what can be done about it?
What Percentage of Doctors Become Addicted to Prescription Drugs?
Determining just how many physicians abuse drugs or become addicted isn’t easy. There is a long history of doctors not reporting their own drug abuse or that of colleagues. The best estimates say that 10% to 15% of doctors will become addicted at some point in their lifetimes. That number is higher when only prescription drugs are considered.
Why Doctors Turn to Drug Abuse
Doctors know better than the general population that there are serious dangers and risks associated with prescription drug abuse, so why do they do it? Drug abuse for anyone is usually a coping mechanism or a way to self-medicate. People tend to turn to drugs when they are feeling depressed, anxious, stressed or other negative emotions.
For physicians, the stress of long work hours, the pressure of making life-and-death choices and the grief that comes with losing patients combine in a powerful way. Drugs seem like an easy way to cope with these negative feelings. Add to this the relatively easy access physicians have to prescription medications and you have a recipe for drug abuse and addiction. The last point is important because the doctors with the highest addiction rate are anesthesiologists. They have the most access to mind-altering drugs.
How Physician Health Programs Can Help
The good news for addicted doctors with drug habits, and for their patients, is that most states have specialized treatment for addicted physicians. These physician recovery programs are called physician health programs (PHPs), and they are tailored to meet the needs of doctors. One of the most important factors in PHPs is the ability to work toward maintaining licensing. A major reason that few doctors report drug abuse or ask for help is fear of losing medical licenses. When doctors know they will be able to return to practicing medicine, it acts as a strong motivator for getting well.
Nearly every state has a PHP that serves doctors addicted to drugs or alcohol. The success rates of these programs are higher than for other types of rehab. One reason is that the patients continue to be monitored after treatment. This drastically reduces rehab and helps doctors get back to work. With more education and awareness about physician drug abuse and PHPs, we can help reduce the stigma and help more doctors get needed treatment.