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Impaired Medical Professionals

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Substance dependence is a serious problem that affects a large number of people, making them daily risk their lives and social status due to an urge to purchase and use the drug, even though they are usually aware of the adverse effects. Most of the time, dependence occurs when one has the accessibility to the drug and the desire for its usage. When it comes to medical professionals, drug abuse is rather common and it almost never comes as a surprise. Over the years, the medical community has become more and more aware that people have started to  abuse drugs. Without a doubt, substance abuse is dangerous, irresponsible, and risky, since the effects of the drugs might deteriorate the ability of the person to complete his duties. Nonetheless, should one consider those who abuse various types of drugs that give energy, stamina and better concentration?

In an essay regarding the problem of impaired medical professionals, Larry Blumenthal, M.D. and director of the Student Health Services of the Medical University of South Carolina painted a vivid picture of the effects of drug abuse in the life of a healthcare professional. As he says, “the individual withdraws from family, friends, and leisure activities, and can frequently exhibit behavioral changes such as mood swings and depression” (Blumenthal). This is definitely a good reason to believe that substance abuse deteriorates the capabilities of a doctor, nurse or any other type of medical professional. Blumenthal adds that the issues “extend into the workplace, evidenced by sloppy documentation, tardiness, and absenteeism”, and no one would ever appreciate a careless doctor, who seems to be unable to concentrate. (Blumenthal)

Because chemical dependence has always been a problem, people in the medical community have rarely considered testing their own colleagues to see if they were under the influence of these substances. In these cases, certain moral principles take action, as many think that they cannot test their friends as this might put their relationship in danger. According to Robert Holman Coombs, a medical professor, who conducted a study in this domain in the mid 1990s, drug abuse is a terrible problem that is surprisingly popular in the medical community. After questioning a number of 91 medical professionals who admitted to be addicted, he gathered shocking findings. One particular medical intern used to present himself drunk at the hospital and was at one point put to do a tracheotomy (a medical procedure, which implies creating a hold into the trachea in order to allow air to enter the respiratory system) to a child. In spite of failing, he was successful and thought that he should “experiment with the effects of alcohol during surgical performance.” (Coombs, 2000) This exact event comes to contradict the fact that substance abuse is harmful both for the one who is addicted and those around him. However, is it worth taking a risk, even though the performances seem to be better under the influence of alcohol or drugs?

Being addicted to certain substances raises many questions, especially if the specific person works in the medical field. The first issue that appears is whether there is a relationship between the addiction and a disabling illness. Louis E. Baxter, M.D. and Mark F. Seltzer, J.D. have already discussed this problem and believe to have arrived at a conclusion. Firstly, they consider addictive disorders that medical professional suffer from to be chronic diseases. As researches show, “addictive disorders have identifiable biological, genetic and neurochemical components and markers that are found in other well-known and studied chronic medical illnesses.” (Baxter, 2007) Furthermore, they state that these illnesses can be successfully treated, and the medical professionals, who suffer from addiction, may recover completely from the period of drug abuse. This is yet another fact that proves the dangers of substance abuse, considering that this condition is very resembling to a chronic, impairing illness.

Judging the people, who abuse chemical substances, is rather easy. However, does one sit and think about the social and psychical elements that might push someone into the urge of drug consumption? Marie Baldissei has considered this in a thorough report on the topic, clearly depicting the fact that healthcare professionals have a very stressful job. They have to cope with the daily anxiety, pain, stress, sleep deprivation, unhealthy diet plan and other vicious activities. In addition, the permanent access to drugs makes the addiction much more easily obtainable. Once the addiction is installed, “healthcare professionals seem to be very good at hiding signs and symptoms of substance use.” (Baldissei, 2007) This is somewhat logical since medical professionals are the people who are supposed to know how a person’s body changes once the active substance starts to show its effects. Apart from the logical health and social related problems that substance abuse creates, the legal aspects of drug consumption are more delicate. According to Baldissei, the law frowns upon the declaration of impaired medical professionals due to social aspects. However, “the 1972 AMA House of Delegates encouraged the reporting of impaired healthcare professionals who may potentially endanger the lives of their patients.” (Baldissei, 2007) This is clearly a good approach, which will help to discourage drug usage and substance addiction.

To conclude with, drug abuse is undoubtedly a perilous activity, even when it comes to healthcare professionals who, obviously, need to know all the mechanisms and effects of the substances. However, impaired medical professionals are more and more numerous as drug abuse makes more victims in the medical field. Luckily, with the help of the leaders of the medical industry, drug abuse among the doctors can be treated and even prevented. What needs to be done?  There must be regular surveys, tests, and checkups of all the medical employees in a hospital in order to determine a substance abuse at its debut and treat it. Although many consider some substances to be beneficial for a doctor, the impairment that drug addiction determines is definitely not a fair price to pay for a career. Therefore, drug addiction in medical personnel is a true and mundane problem that needs to be addressed and solved as soon as possible. 

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