During the past few years, much has been said about the opioid epidemic in the U.S. One specific segment of society—doctors who specialize in anesthesiology—have been shown to be particularly prone to the devastating effects of prescription painkillers.
The fact is, there’s a significant element of “double-trouble” in the life of an addicted anesthesiologist. That’s because of the direct effects they have on others, specifically their patients at the hospitals in which they work.
In other words, the addicted anesthesiologist’s heartrending problems do not lie simply with him or herself struggling with the obsession and compulsion to use opioids. Those troubles, certainly, must be addressed in order to get the person the professional help they need—including medical detox, treatment for opioid dependence, the recovery of their sense of self and the ability to continue their medical career without getting triggered into relapse by their working in an environment surrounded by prescription drugs. Appropriate aftercare and monitoring, as well, are necessary components in the recovery process of an addicted anesthesiologist.
However, the increased abuse of opioids among anesthesiologists has been leading to a wide range of serious complications in hospitals, where patients are being directly affected by their doctor’s addiction. In the U.S., even though they represent just 5% of the country’s physicians, roughly 13-15% of anesthesiologists account for all doctors in treatment for a substance use disorder, with many of them being afflicted by a chemical dependency on opioids.
Why are anesthesiologists more prone than doctors in other medical fields? In short, they have increased access to a steady prescription drug supply, they can easily divert drugs for personal use, and much of their time is spent in fast-paced, high-stress work environments.
Regarding access, given anesthesiologists are in charge of administering and managing anesthesia that is given to patients during surgery and for pain management, they have ready access to virtually every prescription drug, including highly addictive ones like fentanyl, oxycodone and hydrocodone.
As for diverting painkillers for their own use, anesthesiologists who suffer from drug use disorders may choose to administer only a portion of the drug to their patients, and save the rest for themselves. This dangerous practice deprives patients of the necessary amount of pain relief, but also puts both the anesthesiologist and patients at risk for contracting AIDS, hepatitis C or other life-threatening diseases
It’s no surprise that the typical workplace for an anesthesiologist—surgery rooms, emergency rooms and intensive care units—are regularly high-stress environments. Also, most will often work long shifts, get little sleep, and undergo extended periods of mental, emotional and physical stress in the process. To cope with stress, the statistics mentioned earlier indicate a significant number of anesthesiologists turn to painkillers, including opioids.
Once again, though, anesthesiologists who divert drugs from their patients are jeopardizing the health and well-being, perhaps even the lives of their patients. How? If an anesthesiologist is taking a portion of their patient’s pain medication, another doctor may conclude the current dosage isn’t sufficient. Upon increasing the patient’s dose, the likelihood of eventual tolerance, dependency and even overdose increases.
And we have not even mentioned the problems that can arise from the effects of an anesthesiologist being under the influence of powerful opioid pain medications while working with patients who need sophisticated levels of care in the hospital. The increased risks are clearly easy to see!
The bottom line is this: anesthesiologists who are in the throes of a substance use disorder—particularly dependency on opioids—need specialized, addiction treatment provided by addiction professionals in the medical field.
Quality addiction treatment centers exist that customize their therapies for addicted healthcare professionals based on their unique reasons for developing their dependency… including anesthesiologists who use opioids to cope with the stress and demands of their careers.
Help is readily available! To avoid “double-trouble” and find a new life in recovery, anesthesiologists seeking out treatment options would be wise to look for a treatment facility that can take these special factors into consideration.