It sounds like something out of a soap opera, but unfortunately, it’s happening in hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country: doctors find themselves abusing drugs, putting patients at risk of improper care or even injury.
Physicians are actually five times as likely to abuse prescription drugs when compared with members of the general public. Some use the medication for emotional pain or stress management and others may get introduced to painkillers while recovering from a procedure, only to learn that it’s too easy to keep using. According to some, there’s so little oversight or questions asked about doctors on drugs that physicians note it’s hard to pass up the opportunity.
The drug problem has serious ramifications in medicine: more than 100,000 nurses, doctors, technicians, and medical professionals indicate a struggle with addiction or abuse, the majority of which are never even noticed.
When the lines get blurred, it’s difficult for physicians to stop abuse of the drug during work hours. This means that a doctor treating and diagnosing patients may be completely impaired. This increases the chances of mistakes being made and serious injuries happening, but yet the epidemic continues.
Even just one healthcare professional who crosses the line to abuse prescription drugs can put a wide range of patients at risk. After a hospital technician was caught using his patient’s syringes to inject himself with medication and then refilling the syringes with saline, more than 8,000 individuals across numerous states had to get hepatitis tests. This led to a hepatitis outbreak, the third of its kind in recent years. While the hepatitis scare is certainly worrisome, there are other more isolated incidents that make it difficult to identify a doctor who is using drugs. This may result in a surgery with mistakes or an incorrect medication dosage.
Oversight is Low
Since one doctor may be able to hide his involvement with drugs and there is little oversight for this issue, a lot of the damage goes unnoticed. A physician may even be able to play off mistakes made as a result of drugs by arguing that they are general mistakes. A USA Today review of federal and state records revealed hundreds of cases where prosecution or discipline of physicians has happened in recent years.
The Struggle for Health Professionals
Since there is no oversight and very few resources for individuals affected by this issue, many physicians suffer with despair, guilt, and high levels of daily stress at their jobs. Many feel forced to turn to prescription drugs as a result of very few other outlets for the high pressure environment.
Indifferent professional environments are partly to blame, too, since physicians are often encouraged to deal with the high pressure and continue performing a high level of difficulty in their daily duties. Last year, New York’s Supreme Court ruled that a hospital couldn’t be held liable for an overdose death of a physician out of drug rehabilitation who was given access to the propofol that ultimately led to her death.
Outside the System
While there are plenty of drug rehabilitation efforts outside of the medical community, and long-established practices for individuals who are suffering, this isn’t true for healthcare professionals. The systems for dealing with drug diversion are broken, and in the meantime, professionals with a drug addiction are able to easily hide the addiction and continue working directly with patients. There’s a strong belief that the medical community is immune from the problems that affect many others in the general population.
What Makes Doctors Different?
While there’s a fair mix of reasons why people in the general population might begin abusing drugs, the reasons are different for physicians. Some in the general population are simply seeking recreational thrills, but a survey of doctors revealed that this very rare in the medical community. Physicians are instead seeking a way to deal with some of the pressure of the job, especially with regard to depression.
With easier access to the medication, doctors may feel unable to help themselves and instead resort to self-medication. With systems in place for simplified access to prescriptions, it’s also easier to hide an individual’s tracks when he or she is lifting medications or prescribing them for a patient and taking it themselves.
There are already systems in place for detecting and preventing drug abuse in numerous other industries, but these systems are not in place in healthcare. No state in the country has universal drug testing requirements, and hospitals and other healthcare facilities frequently don’t test themselves. This means that doctors addicted can slip through the cracks and put patients at risk.
On top of all these weaknesses, there are not clear procedures for reporting and investigating potential problems, either. When a problem is discovered, there’s no specific guidelines that have been shared industry-wide regarding steps to take to prevent the problem.
Clearly something must be done for the sake of patient care and safety. Lives should not be at risk because of a doctor’s drug abuse. Hospitals must also be responsible for who they allow to practice medicine within their walls. If you or a loved one have suffered a serious injury or a life has been lost in the hands of a negligent doctor or medical staff, you need to consult with an experienced attorney who knows the complexity involved in a lawsuit such as this.
Call Passen & Powell at 312-527-4500 for a free consultation to discuss a potential case involving serious injury or wrongful death.