Do not panic, but your doctor might get stoned out of his gourd before performing surgery. The medical community is becoming increasingly alarmed at the addiction rate among doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare professionals.

Not a “New Trend”

Substance abuse in the surgical suite is nothing new. In the late 1800s, the “father of modern surgery” William Halstead became addicted to cocaine after experimenting with this drug as an anesthetic. Addiction and chemical dependence among professionals went largely ignored for about a century; the number of addicted doctors probably remained about the same but the substances they abused grew continually stronger and more destructive.

A Startling Study on Addiction

A 1997 study changed the way the medical community looked at addiction within its own ranks. A researcher by the name of Talbott and his associates cataloged the specialties of the first 1,000 physicians to complete a particular rehabilitation program and realized there were a large number of anesthesiologists enrolled in treatment. At the time of the study, anesthesiologists represented only about 3 percent of all doctors, yet almost 12 percent of physicians enrolled in treatment were anesthesiologists.

Likely Abusers:

In 1998, another researcher speculated anesthesiologists are about five times more likely to abuse opioids than the public, especially surgical-grade opioids such as fentanyl and propofol – the drug that killed pop superstar Michael Jackson. Subsequent studies revealed psychiatrists, nurse anesthetists, general practitioners, pharmacists and other medical professionals also battle addiction.

Easy Access to Powerful Drugs

Many attribute high addiction rates to easy access to potent drugs – scientists do know that about 10 percent of all people who try drugs become addicted to them and medical professionals have plenty of opportunities to try drugs. Others wonder if the stresses of the job cause medical professionals to use drugs as a way to relax. In any case, today’s drugs are much stronger than anything Halstead was snorting in the 1800s and therefore more likely to cause a much stronger addiction than was possible back in the 19th century.

Act Before it is Too Late

All too often, a substance abuse problem goes unrecognized until the individual suffers a fatal or near-fatal overdose. Many addicted professionals avoid treatment out of fear of disciplinary actions at the workplace. Indeed, some within the medical community fear the rate of relapse is too high to allow these professionals back into the operating room. In any case, it is a shame to lose brilliant medical minds to the ravages of drug addiction.

The good news is that anesthesiologists and other doctors have about the same addiction rate as other people in the United States. The bad news is that about 8 percent of Americans are addicted to a drug, meaning nearly one in ten doctors have a substance abuse problem.

If you think someone you know has a substance abuse problem, use our addiction assessment to gauge the potential severity – and then take the right steps to get them help.