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Addictions & Answers: Is your doctor an addict?
Addictions & AnswersFriday, September 10th 2010, 10:27 AM
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: I was just reading in Men’s Health about a St. Louis doctor so hooked on pain pills that "he poked a hole in thecolon of patient," causing so much damage that about 12 inches had to be removed.
: Didn’t you once tell me about a doped-out Key West surgeon who fell asleep over the operating table, her patient still cut open?
: While I was still living there. She lost her license.
: The sad fact, Bill, is that while the AMA’s own journal consistently reports that 10-12% of physicians are addicted, they’re not treated like other high stress occupations.Airline pilots, for instance, are required by law to be randomly screened for drug use.
: As far as I am concerned, "medical ethics," seem to mean one MD can watch another half-lit doctor misdiagnose or kill you, but must not utter a word to the patient. Their ethic isto protect each other. But Dave, while nobody has easier access to drugs – they always have that little black bag at their elbow -- I’ve never been to an AA meeting where a self-identified MD stood up and said, "My name is So-and-So, I’m an addict."
There’s a delicate problem here, Bill. You don’t mind submitting a manuscript to a hard drinking agent or editor. From what you tell me about publishing, that happensevery day?
You know the roll call of famous writers who died of booze? Faulkner, Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon, Ring Lardner, Dorothy Parker, Robert Lowell,Eugene O'Neill, John O'Hara, O. Henry, Conrad Aiken, Edmund Wilson—on and on.
You read their books, sure. But would you go to an MD with a reputation for drinking?
When I was a volunteer at the Scripps Memorial rehab, there were rumors about a secret 12 Step program for MDs that met behind closed doors once a week. You ran theplace. Was that the way you met the problem?
: Actually, the San Diego Doctors and Lawyers AA Group was listed in the regular schedule. The "secret group" you’re talking about is the Physicians Health Program. Theyare in every state for impaired physicians, and take phone calls round-the-clock. The tragedy is how few physicians that need the services are referred to the PHP.
: But, Dave, wouldn’t they lose their license if they seek help? Also, I can’t see a partner in some small and friendly medical practice turning in a fellow physician. That would alsoraise fears about their clinic insurance and liability.
: There is no way to sugar coat the fact that any physician going into the Physicians Health Program is putting his/her license at risk—IF they suffer multiple relapses.
: In divorce cases, I’ve read where a medical license is worth anywhere from $250,000 to over a $1 million. That’s a lot of money to risk with no guarantee that if you do enter addiction treatment, you are going to be one of those who gets clean and sober.
: Now that is where I can provide you some sugar coating—in national studies, physicians recover at rates of 74-90%. And, of course, the earlier the disease is treated, themore you are looking at better rates of recovery.
: A pretty loud case for early Tough Love.
: I’d also like to note that some of the highest rates of addiction are among family physicians, internists and psychiatrists--
: The docs most likely to be prescribing medications for our emotional aches and pains?
: The deaths of Anna Nicole Smith, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson should be a warning. Taking the ostrich approach to the prescription practices of doctors who mayhave their own problems can be fatal.
: If a concerned reader wants to refer a doctor to the Physicians Health Programs, where do they start?
: Go to the Federation of Physicians Health Programs atthis website. Then go to the pull-down menu of state programs, choose their state and it will give them who andwhere to call.
Dr. David Moore is a licensed psychologist and chemical dependency professional who is a graduate school faculty member at Argosy University’s Seattle Campus. Bill Manville is aBook of the Month novelist; his most recent non-fiction work, "Cool, Hip & Sober," is available at online bookstores. He teaches"Writing To Get Published" for Temple University.
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