Among the general population, between 10 and 15% of us are addicted to drugs or alcohol. That means that if you think of eight or ten of your friends — chances are good that one of them is a substance addict.
It should come as no surprise, then, that in a group of eight or ten doctors, there will also be an addict. The number may even be higher because they have easier access to addictive drugs than a pedestrian would.
Take that the next step — within a group of eight or ten surgeons…. yes… with knives… and anesthesiologists…. putting people to sleep and stopping pain….. scary stuff.
Since there are 800,000 doctors in the US and about 61,000 in Canada, the math tells us that there will be 86,000 or more doctors who are addicted. Now divide that out by 50 states and 13 provinces or territories… bottom line — there are everywhere, in every locality, and they are treating patients every day.
Only 8,000 of the American doctors have “confessed” to their addictions, and are undergoing any form of treatment or rehab. That’s one in ten if we trust the stats above. The rest aren’t even on the radar. But they continue to treat patients.
And that’s the basis for a handful of articles published in mainstream media within the past few months about doctors, both surgeons and others, who are addicted to drugs or alcohol and while under the influence have botched surgeries and caused deaths.
What can be done to ferret out these doctors and pull them away from practicing and potentially harming patients? It turns out — not much. Most states in the US have some kind of law or statute that allows doctors to self-identify, put themselves into rehab, and quietly (under the table) inform a state agency that this is happening. When they do so, they are protected, are allowed to continue practicing, and are — supposedly — monitored to make sure they are recovering from their addictions.
Only everyone knows that doesn’t work. While there may be a doctor here or a doctor there who successfully undergoes rehab and recovers well, they are few and far between. They continue to treat patients.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper discussed the horrors of addicted surgeons on Anderson Cooper 360. The scenes and photos were sickenly graphic.
In addition, CNN published sad and horrible stories of women who were mistreated or suffered botched surgeries at the hands of addicted doctors.
These follow reports issued by NBC last winter that tell of California’s movement toward removing their veil of secrecy which would no longer allow doctors to hide behind these bogus rehab programs, but could yank their licenses if they hurt a patient.
As you can imagine, the doctors groups are crying foul. They are covering up for their peers, trying to protect them, perhaps under the guise of “there but for the grace of God…”
Advice for patients? Trust your instincts. We can’t affect legislation. We can’t convince doctors to quit their practices or take leaves of absence…. all we can do is protect ourselves. And the way to do that is to step away, run, walk, just leave behind a doctor if we have just the slightest suspicion that s/he might be addicted to anything. You don’t want a doctor who is a gambler or a sex addict or any type of behavior that could possibly compromise your care taking care of you.
And don’t think it can’t happen. Addicted doctors mar and ruin lives every day. Just read those articles cited above. Ordinary people, like you and me.
Don’t let them do it to you.