February 21, 2014, Cleveland news station WKYC.com reported that the Ohio state medical board ranks drug and alcohol impairment as one of the three most common complaints it receives. Two months later, USA Today reported that approximately 103,000 but possibly as many as 1 in 10 healthcare providers abuse drugs each year in this country. The problem lies in the fact that they have easy access to prescription painkillers and aren’t required to take a drug test.
When one hospital in another state set up video cameras and instituted a medication log, it discovered at least one employee stealing prescription drugs each month. Some sell the pills. Others take them.
One doctor popped 100 Percocets, which is a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen, or Vicodin per day back in 2004, according to USA Today writer Peter Eisler.
“Looking back, it scares me to death what I could have done [to a patient],” the doctor said.
A head and neck surgeon admitted that, in the 1990s, he’d consulted doctors for prescriptions, wrote his own, and adjourned to the bathroom during surgery so he could medicate himself.
Likewise, a nurse anesthetist confessed to stealing drugs that she was supposed to dole out to surgical patients. She even put an IV port in her ankle to “inject the drugs more efficiently,” per USA Today. She doesn’t know whether she ever made a mistake while administering anesthesia or caused an overdose. “[A]nd that’s the scary part,” she said.
A common refrain among all three of them is that no one noticed and no one complained.
How Can I Tell if My Doctor Is Addicted to a Prescription Drug?
Unfortunately, “[p]rescription drug abuse does not typically present in the same way as abuse of illegal street drugs,” says Drug Abuse. “Many people can seem to function normally while taking excessive doses of pain medication.”
Nonprofit organization HelpGuide.org suggests being on the lookout for general symptoms such as bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, shaky hands, slurred speech, or stumbling. If your doctor keeps rescheduling appointments or neglects to show up for appointments, he or she may have a prescription drug problem.
If your doctor is addicted to a depressant, such as Xanax or Valium, he or she may seem drunk. Take note of contracted pupils, spaciness, clumsiness, and slurred speech. If your doctor is addicted to Ritalin, he or she may seem high, talk really fast, or seem irritable, per Mayo Clinic. If your doctor is addicted to oxycodone, oxycontin, or hydrocodone, he or she may seem sleepy, unable to concentrate, anxious, or depressed, according to Narconon International.
Why Aren’t Doctors Drug Tested in Order to Prevent Medical Malpractice?
One state is currently trying to pass a law that would require random drug testing of doctors, Aljazeera America reported in April. The law would also force doctors to report colleagues who appear to be abusing prescription drugs. Insurers and medical associations have allocated nearly $32 million to make sure that law doesn’t get passed.
“The medical industry is widely opposed, primarily because it would raise the medical malpractice cap from $250,000, set in 1975, to an inflation-adjusted $1.1 million,” the website stated.
The president of that state’s medical association believes the proposed law was written by medical malpractice lawyers for medical malpractice lawyers. “[B]ut it will increase health care costs, reduce access and put personal privacy at risk for everyone else,” he stated.
Unfortunately, people in his position rarely take into consideration the fact that, if a patient is injured as a result of a surgical error or an anesthesia mistake, $250,000 doesn’t go very far toward paying medical bills, rehabilitation costs, and other expenses — especially if the patient missed time from work or can’t return to work as a result of a permanent injury, such as paralysis.
What Happens if a Doctor Is Caught Abusing Drugs?
“Disciplinary actions by medical boards and hospitals … are rare,” USA Today stated. “From 2010 to 2013, only about 750 physicians nationwide lost hospital privileges or had their licenses revoked or restricted for being unable to practice safely because of drug or alcohol abuse.”
If you believe a doctor’s prescription drug addiction caused medical malpractice or wrongful death, attorney Chris Mellino welcomes you to contact our Cleveland office for a free consultation.