Prescription Drug Use and Addiction Among Medical Professionals

medical professional addictionMedical professionals are looked at by many as advocates for the general public. The majority of societies go to the doctor when they are ill and they depend on nurses to bring them back to a good state of health when they are unable to take care of themselves. Most medical professionals dedicate their very essence to help the next person. In addition, medical professionals take a oath called “Do no harm” or “The Hippocratic Oath”. This oath is taken with the knowledge of dedication and responsibility required to carry out its terms.  But what happens when medical professionals become addicted to drugs?  When Can Medical Professionals Return to Work After Drug Addiction Treatment?  What is the drug relapse rate of medical professionals?

The Hippocratic Oath

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

Healthcare professionals are held to a high standard. They are expected to make the next right decision; they are to be trusted to carry out this oath throughout the rest of their natural life… “To do no harm”. Along with this standard, the general public is taught to trust and depend on healthcare professionals.

What Happens When a Health Care Professional Becomes Addicted to Drugs?

doctor addictionWhen in the presence of a medical professional it is taught that they have a societies best interest at heart, and they are of sound mind to make medical choices and decisions. However medical professionals are human, they make mistakes too. Healthcare workers also live in the same stress filled world as the next person. They have a family to go home to, children to pick up from daycare, husbands and wives to attend to, a home to clean, and pets to take care of. So what happens when a medical professional find themselves addicted to drugs?

While many do not know it, prescription drug use is seen more within healthcare workers at a higher rate then the general public (Ziegler, 2014). This may come as a surprise to some however, healthcare workers have ready access to prescription pain killers, where as the general public goes to extremes to obtain their drug of choice. Drug addiction treatment and recovery is imposed on medical professionals just as it is on the general public. However, not all rules are the same. For instance, healthcare workers have to maintain certain rules in order to return to their professional life.

“An astonishing 90% of addicted healthcare workers are able to return to practicing medicine after recovery with proper treatment “(Ziegler, 2014). According to Ziegler “physicians who find themselves addicted to prescription pain killers actually have a higher chance of recovery in comparison to nurses”. Methadone is one of the many sought after medical detox treatment for the general public. While methadone is imposed for the general public, it is certainly not imposed for medical professionals that are returning to work in their field. Some studies suggest that while on methadone maintenance therapy, cognitive abilities are somewhat impaired. Similarly, some data suggests that Methadone is in fact detrimental when making cognitive and quick minded decisions.  However, other data shows that cognitive functioning which includes decision making is only affected at extremely high doses.

When Can Medical Professionals Return to Work After Drug Addiction Treatment?

According to The Mayo Clinic Proceedings; “The AANA recommends a minimum of 1 year away from the clinical anesthesia arena after a diagnosis of intravenous drug addiction or major opioid use” (Seppala & Oreskovich, 2012). The American Nurses Association established the above mentioned time line for nurses to return to the medical field after recovering from a addiction problem with opioid or other medications. However no such “recommendation” or mandating rule for other healthcare workers?

Physicians are one of the many that are not currently held to this recommendation. Such mandates for physicians would need to come from Federation of State Physician Health Programs, it is hoped that they will soon follow the AANA in this request for the safety of patients and clients.

What is the Drug Relapse Rate of Medical Professionals?

While prescription drug use is a problem through the medical profession community, nurses are more susceptible to the disease vs. doctors. Nurses also have a higher rate of relapse compared to any other healthcare profession. While doctors have access to prescription pads, and the ability to write prescriptions at any time, nurses dispense the orders. Nurses receive orders from doctors, and in turn retrieve the medication from the Phyxis or Automatic Dispense Cabinet (a security feature added as a safety measure for prescription pain meds to be accessed by nurses). When a doctor writes a prescription, the nurse is then expected to follow the orders. The nurse uses the Phyxis or ADC device to access pain medication for the patients. Each nurse or validated staff member have their own code to enter to retrieve these medications. This is a safety measure that was imposed in the 1980’s. The ADC is not only used to prevent healthcare staff from abusing medication, it is also used as a safety measure to prevent clients from obtaining the incorrect medication, or too much medication.

“Every human walks around with a certain kind of sadness. They may not wear it on their sleeves, but it’s there if you look deep”. Taraji P. Henson

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Written by Norma Garbarek, Recovery Advocate and Blogger for Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™, Heroin News and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATC)

Edited By William Charles, Owner/Publisher

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Seppala, M. D., & Oreskovich, M. R. (2012, March). Opioid-Abusing Health Care Professionals: Options for Treatment and Returning to Work After Treatment. Retrieved June 20, 2017, from

Ziegler, P. P., MD. (2014, October). Treating Addicted Healthcare Professionals. Retrieved June 20, 2017, from

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