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Statistics for Substance Abuse in Medical Professionals

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Priscilla Henson, MD
Dr. Priscilla Henson is a Resident Physician specializing in Emergency Medicine at a community hospital in central California. She also serves as a member of the Pain Management Quality Improvement Committee through the same hospital. Part of the committee’s mandate is to work toward non-narcotic pain management alternatives.
medical professionals and substance abuseThe issue of substance abuse in medical professionals has slightly lowered overall in the last decade or so, but still remains a problem year after year. Few careers have such odd working hours and so many traumatic situations as those in the healthcare industry.

The high levels of stress and physical pain that often come with this job open the door for numerous types of addiction.

Alcohol Addiction Statistics

The abuse of alcohol is a continuous source of addiction across the country, with about 7% of American adults being considered heavy drinkers. Though it’s a lower percentage than the overall average, the rate of medical personnel who struggle with this addiction is still concerning. About 4.4% of people working in healthcare have a problem with heavy alcohol consumption

And even with the many treatment options available for these individuals, this rate has stayed around the same number for over ten years.¹

Prescription Drug Statistics

substance abuse in medical professionalsAnother common form of substance abuse in medical professionals is the use of opioids, benzodiazepines (Xanax) and other prescription medications. Many healthcare workers turn to these drugs for stress relief, to deal with depression, pain symptoms, or to boost their overall work performance. But as time progresses, these seemingly harmless meds often become a source of dependence or addiction in the user.

Back in 2013, a localized study was conducted via a survey of 55 physicians regarding issues of substance abuse.² The research found that 69% of these doctors misused prescription drugs at least once during their career.³ And the reasons were related to high stress levels as well as emotional and physical pain relief.

In his book titled Free Refills, Dr. Peter Grinspoon wrote about how common opioid use is among doctors in particular. He estimated the rate of use among these medical workers “start at 10 percent and rise up to 15 percent.” His main reasoning for the growth rate is the easy access many physicians and nurses have to opioids like Fentanyl, Oxycodone, and others.

Illicit Drug Statistics

It’s hard to imagine anyone in the healthcare field taking any type of illegal substance, but approximately 5.5% of medical professionals struggle with illicit drug abuse. They often turn to things like marijuana as a means of relaxation after a long shift at the hospital, clinic, or other healthcare facilities.

Even William Stewart Halsted, a man recognized as the father of modern American surgery, was addicted to cocaine back in the twentieth century. And the problems have only grown from there.4

substance abuse in medical professionalsTreatment Options for Substance Abuse in Medical Professionals

The concerns that accompany these statistics of prescription medications use and alcohol addiction in the healthcare industry are felt by anyone who ever needs to get medical attention. The importance of medical personnel being fully aware of the current situation and their surroundings is imperative to their success.

But substance abuse in medical professionals has numerous options for treatment at local centers or in rehab facilities.

Sources:

  1. Bush, Donna M. Ph.D. and Lipari, Rachel N. Ph.D. April 16, 2015. SUBSTANCE USE AND SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER BY INDUSTRY.
  2. Merlo LJ, Singhakant S, Cummings SM, and Cottler LB. 2013. Reasons for misuse of prescription medication among physicians undergoing monitoring by a physician health program.
  3. Reese, Shelly. January 29, 2014. Drug Abuse Among Doctors: Easy, Tempting, and Not Uncommon.
  4. Halsted the Documentary. 2011. William Stewart Halsted.
Last Updated on February 19, 2020
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american addiction centers photo
Priscilla Henson, MD
Dr. Priscilla Henson is a Resident Physician specializing in Emergency Medicine at a community hospital in central California. She also serves as a member of the Pain Management Quality Improvement Committee through the same hospital. Part of the committee’s mandate is to work toward non-narcotic pain management alternatives.
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