Doctors on drugs: What you need to know

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CENTER CITY, Minn. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- From alcohol to cocaine to pain pills—tens of millions of Americans deal with addiction every day. It costs the U.S. 600 billion dollars a year in lost productivity, crime, and healthcare. So, what happens when healthcare 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 around the U.S. come here for help. He says one-in-ten doctors will face addiction at some point in their lives. 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,” Marc J. Myer, MD, Director, Health Care Professionals Program, told Ivanhoe.

Myer tells us health care professionals’ consumption rate of opioids, like Valium and Oxycodone, is five times greater than the general population.

Sometimes they even divert medications from patients.

“The medication or drug is kept for personal use,” Dr. 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,” Dr. Myer explained.

Myer says the sobriety rate after treatment for the general population is 50 percent.

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

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

“Before I ran the program, I went through the treatment program here. I’m a recovering opiate addict myself,” Dr. Myer explained.

He’s been clean for four years. Now, his patients are his peers.

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