Health Beat: Doctors on drugs: What you need to know

Health Beat: Doctors on drugs: What you need to know

CENTER CITY, Minn. - From alcohol to cocaine to pain pills, tens of millions of Americans deal with addiction every day. It costs the United States $600 billion a year in lost productivity, crime, and health care. So, what happens when health care providers become addicts?

It's the focus of shows like "Nurse Jackie" and "House MD".  Both are examples of art imitating life.

Dr. Marc Myer heads a health care professionals' addiction program. Every year, 250 doctors and nurses from across the U.S. go there for help. He said one in ten doctors will face addiction at some point in his or her life. Alcohol is the number one drug of choice.

After that, "the other substances of choice are different and that mainly has to do with access," said Myer, director, Health Care Professionals Program.

Myer said health care professionals' consumption rate of opioids is five times greater than the general population. Sometimes they even divert medications from patients.

"The medication or drug is kept for personal use," Myer said.

Doctors and nurses who do seek help "notoriously have a very difficult time taking on the patient roll. We work very hard on getting people to face their guilt and shame and realize that they can recover," Myer explained.

The sobriety rate after treatment for the general population is 50 percent, Myer said.

"For health care professionals, the three- to five-year abstinence rates are as high as 90 percent," Myer said.

Myer said he believes that's because if they don't get better they could lose their medical license, but many do return to patient care. Myer knows that first hand.

"Before I ran the program, I went through the treatment program here. I'm a recovering opiate addict myself," explained Myer, who's been clean for four years. Now, his patients are his peers.

Addicted doctors and nurses in recovery may face some new circumstances at work after treatment, Myer said. For instance, they might have restrictions on what hours they work and limited or no access to controlled substances.

Because the success rate among recovering health care professionals is so high, experts are trying to figure out what elements of the program can be applied to treatments for the general population, Myer said.

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