The term “addicted physician” may seem like an oxymoron to most people, since doctors the world over are viewed as those people who care most about health – one presumes they’d care as much about their own health as much as they do the well-being of their patients.
However, the statistics gathered by addiction researchers tell a different story. According to a study published in the July 2009 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, between 10-12% of physicians become chemically dependent on drugs or alcohol during their careers, which is a higher rate than that of the general population. 
Job stress and ease of access to controlled pharmaceutical drugs (including opioids like Fentanyl) are shown to be common factors associated with physician impairment. 
Fortunately, most states have developed specialized programs to assist doctors struggling with addiction to get treatment and find recovery without jeopardizing or losing their medical license.
These Physicians’ Health Programs (PHPs), also known as Professionals Resource Networks (PRNs), are confidential programs designed to help impaired doctors, a population with unique characteristics and needs, if successful recovery is the desired result. And success has been the hallmark of PHPs. Longitudinal studies have shown nearly an 80% success rate for those physicians who complete treatment and adhere to the follow-up protocols established in their PHP agreements.
It should be noted this rate is significantly higher than the typical success rate (50%) of the general population. Plus, statistics indicate the average addicted person relapses multiple times before maintaining long-term sobriety. Not so with doctors enrolled in PHPs. According to a survey published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, almost 80 percent of previously impaired physicians remained sober throughout a five-year program and 7 of 10 of them continued to practice medicine.
What’s involved in a PHP? The main components are:
- A mental and behavioral health assessment to determine the extent of one’s chemical dependency and any physical or mental disorders that also need addressing.
- The doctor signs a contract agreeing to complete four to 12 weeks of residential treatment at an approved facility of their choice and submit to a five-year drug and alcohol monitoring program.
- Enrollment in a treatment program specifically designed to address all aspects of the doctor’s recovery needs.
One key feature to PHPs is their stipulation that if a doctor relapses after treatment, his or her license may be suspended. Similarly, if a physician’s relapse raises concerns of patient endangerment, his or her medical license can also be revoked.
Most states’ PHPs monitor physicians after they complete their agreed upon course of treatment for five years, with random drug tests every few days in the beginning, tapering to every few months later on. There typically are scheduled assessments, as well, conducted by the original treatment provider, as part of the doctor’s follow-up care plan.
Still, for the majority of physicians who enter a confidential PHP, the goals of recovering from the ravages of addiction and keeping a medical license that cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of their lives to obtain is worth the effort. According to one doctor who wished to remain anonymous, “This is a lifelong deal. I know that. But for the first time in at least 25 years there’s hope that I don’t have to go on living the way I’d been living.”