An article in one of this week’s First Cuts looks at doctors who abuse drugs. According to the article, reported originally by the Chicago Tribune, the situation of medical professionals abusing drugs is not uncommon in hospitals across the United States.
It makes sense, really. As the article explains, medical professionals have better access to medications. Their knowledge about drug use may make them feel as thought they aren’t as susceptible to addiction. Meanwhile, this isn’t always the case, and as a result, patients can be put at risk for serious – sometimes fatal – medical mistakes by a doctor or medical professional working under the influence.
The article mentions that, due to these consequences, patient advocacy groups are calling for mandatory drug testing of all medical professionals. Many in the medical community, on the other hand, say mandatory testing would be an invasion of personal privacy.
This topic got me thinking about both sides of this equation.
Medical professionals, especially surgeons, are regarded as one of the highest forms of ‘professional’ there is. These individuals are in the business of saving lives and caring for other human beings. This job should earn them the utmost respect. Mandatory drug testing of all medical professionals would seem disrespectful, particularly to those with no history or reason to be drug-tested in the first place.
When I think about myself – a professional of an entirely different kind – and being subjected to mandatory drug testing without having done something to suggest it’s necessary, I know I would feel disrespected.
There are, however, some valid arguments in favor of drug testing professionals in health care facilities. The number one argument: patients.
As the article says, drug addiction and abuse by medical professionals is not an uncommon occurrence, and from past cases, we know the consequences for the medical professional and the patients can be severe.
Take, for example, Ian M. Rubins, a plastic surgeon in Connecticut who voluntarily relinquished his medical license in November 2007 after he was caught taking painkillers meant for surgery patients. There are records of him being caught for working while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs since 2006. He died in January 2008 of an overdose.
There is the surgery tech from Colorado, Kristen Diane Parker, who slipped through the hospital’s drug screening process and infected dozens of patients with Hepatitis C by switching used syringes with those filled with the painkiller Fentanyl to feed her addiction.
Or David Arndt, an orthopedic surgeon in Massachusetts addicted to methamphetamine that walked out on a patient in the middle of a complex spinal surgery to go to the bank and cash his paycheck. The patient, 53-year-old Charles Algeri, was left on the table, under anesthesia and open. When Dr. Arndt returned 35 minutes later, the damage was already done. Algeri still has no feeling in his right leg from the knee down.
These examples of doctors and medical professionals struggling with addiction – often with consequences to their patients – may seem extreme. According to the Tribune article, though, that doesn’t mean cases of addicted medical professionals are all that rare. Some studies suggest as many as one in 10 individuals working in the health care field are battling addiction at some level.
With this as a growing concern within the medical field, the question, then, is not if addiction among medical professionals happens, but what should be done to control it?
How does your facility handle drug abuse among medical professionals? Are you subjected to mandatory drug testing? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org