The Access Issue: California’s Addicted Doctors

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Doctors are a vital part in dealing with addiction. They have the expertise and knowledge to deal with a variety of addiction issues and they help thousands of addicts as part of the overall treatment process. It may come as a shock, however, to learn that in California there have been 46 doctors who have been reprimanded as a result of their own substance abuse issues. According to the California Medical Board this is a record high for doctors abusing certain substances in the last year, but the board reminds everyone that this figure is no doubt simply a fraction of the number of doctors who are currently abusing any given substance at this time. The scariest part of these revelations are that doctors who are facing disciplinary action can continue to practice while enforcement actions begin to take place, without their patients having any idea as to what’s going on. This issue has become very serious as California voters can now vote on the issue, known as Proposition 46, which if implemented would result in doctors being forced to submit themselves to random drug testing in order to catch substance-abuse before the patients of said doctors are harmed.

Proposition 46, also known as the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, would require random drug and alcohol testing of doctors modeled after the Federal Aviation Administration’s testing of airline pilots, and testing after an adverse event in a hospital. Prop 46 would also:

  • Require physicians to report suspected drug or alcohol abuse at work by a colleague

  • Index for inflation the medical negligence damage cap set by the legislature in California in 1975

  • Mandate that physicians check the state’s prescription drug database before prescribing narcotics and other addictive drugs to first-time patients

The California Medical Board is pointing to some specific cases where substance-abusing doctors may be to blame for direct harm to patients. Dr. David Chao, the former San Diego Chargers team physician could be responsible for the May 2012 suicide of player Junior Seau. Dr. Chao has a long history of alcohol abuse which even resulted in two DUIs, and is the target of malpractice lawsuits from the players who were in his care. Even the DEA is investigating allegations of Dr. Chao writing prescriptions for himself. The frustrating part of Dr. Chao’s story is that he is still practicing medicine despite all of the allegations brought against him.

Yes, it is a shocking situation. People trust their doctors because of their training, knowledge and the fact that they are in fact meant to be able to help you with just about any medical problem. Doctors are required to be discrete, helpful and experts in their field as well as acting as a rock in a trusting relationship with their sick patients who need someone to totally rely on in times of injury and sickness. But the fact is is that doctors often are under a lot of stress and despite the fact they are well trained and have extensive knowledge they are simply human and can succumb to substance abuse just as easily as anyone. The only difference is is that these medical professionals hold the lives of others in their hands and if they are under the influence of an addictive or dangerous substance they could cause serious harm. The disciplinary actions against these particular California doctors make sense, but the doctors should also be given the chance to kick their bad habits and under severe scrutiny, eventually return to their practices in order to keep helping patients.



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Sobriety Foundation

The Access Issue: California’s Addicted Doctors

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