Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Two hospitals: Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and The Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio have recently implemented a random drug testing program that focuses on their anesthesiologists. The Cleveland Clinic ran a survey in 2005 and discovered that 80% of those in the profession were found to be abusing drugs. Even more frightening, 19% of those were reported dead from drug related causes.
Dr. Michael G. Fitzsimons, administrator for the substance abuse program of the department of anesthesia and critical care at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston explains, "The problem is that we are exposed to, and we have the use of, very highly addictive and potent medications."
Drug testing doctors is problematic. Doctors are well aware of the signs and symptoms of drug abuse and know how to mask those signs. Not only that, but they are fully aware of the best, most effective ways, of beating a drug test. This would mean observed tests, an invasion of privacy for those who don't abuse the drugs, but little else could be done to insure nobody was cheating.
Dr. Raymond Roy of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. tells a story of a young resident in his anesthesiology program who would arrive at work early to get just high enough to avoid going into withdrawal and return home each night to use heavily. The young man died of an overdose soon after completing a drug rehabilitation program. The unfortunate death of his young resident led Dr. Roy to ask his other doctors if they had noticed any signs of abuse. 100% of them reported that had suspected nothing.
The doctors find the incidents rates to be the same, but are hoping for multi-institutional studies that will help understand if the program is effective in staving off drug users.
The hospitals offer treatment programs and often allow the abusers to return to the program once they are clean. But the death rate for treated residents that return to the program is 1 in 9, as a result, hospitals are looking to find other ways to keep addiction at bay, including reining in the already tight regulations on narcotics and their availability in hospitals.
The institutions participating in these programs should be commended for taking action against a problem that has existed for years. The rehabilitation programs are impressive and the ability to return to the program is respectable. Doctors understand addiction is a disease and as they are called to do, they are fighting that disease with all the tools they have available to them.