Drug Diversion: What If Your Physician Has An Addiction?
When I was a child, I always asked why our family doctor was so overweight. My mother always told me being overweight wasn’t healthy, so why would a doctor not care? I know now that doctors and health care providers are just people, too. They are prone to the same problems as anyone else, and that includes addiction of all sorts – be it food, drugs, alcohol, Internet, or whatever.
Addiction truly is an equal opportunity affliction. It doesn’t matter what your profession is, your race, socioeconomic status, age, or religion. Many of the greatest minds who have ever lived have experienced an addiction of some sort. We all know that celebrities, such as musicians and actors, commonly experience addiction and substance use. But so do authors, poets. and scientists. Think Francis Crick and LSD, or Sigmund Freud and cocaine.
By some estimates, about 10% of all health care professionals are drug addicts or alcoholics. While most of these workers go into the field to help others, one much also consider what they have to deal with. Many are working long hours and under significant stress. Access to prescription drugs can be very tempting. For example, in the television series House (2004-2012), the main character Dr. House was addicted to Vicodin.
Stealing drugs from a medical setting or from patients is called drug diversion. And it probably happens more often that you think. According to Wikipedia, drug diversion is:
“…a medical and legal concept involving the transfer of any legally prescribed controlled substance from the individual for whom it was prescribed to another person for any illicit use.”
Additionally, when health care professionals are addicts, consequences can be quite severe. They are committed to helping patients, but instead, they become a health risk. Certainly. providers who are using substances on the job are likely to suffer from poor performance, judgment, and reduced cognitive ability. In fact, in extreme circumstances, they can put the patient’s life directly at risk.
If you suspect someone who is caring for you or your family is using substances, it can be very difficult to confront them. If you are wrong, you face insulting them or harming the provider-patient relationship you have built with him or her.
However, if you suspect that your health care provider was high or under the influence while you are in their care, you have a right to take steps to protect yourself. You can make an anonymous call to the medical board and report your suspicions. The board should take swift action.
Most medical facilities are hyper-aware of drug diversion and substance abuse on the job. They often employ education programs and implement policies on how to handle employees who are under suspicion of having a substance abuse problem. These policies can help get health care providers treatment for their problem.
Fortunately, many health care workers do well in treatment and recovery. This is partially because they have invested in their education and careers, as well as having given an oath, so to speak, to help others and do no harm. If they want to remain licensed, they must strictly adhere to guidelines put forth by the medical board and monitoring programs.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
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