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It may come as a shock to know that doctors and nurses account for one of the highest rates of addictions in the workforce. A recent study done by Philadelphia Law Firm, Anapol Weiss, analyzed data from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) between the years of 1999-2017 and found almost 100,000 instances of medical professionals who received disciplinary measures due to substance abuse.
Key findings in this study included:
- Registered nurses are six times more likely to use drugs than any other physician.
- The massive economic downturn of 2008-2010 could be a likely reason for a spike in the number of drug and alcohol abuse cases that were reported among healthcare professionals.
- 22 percent of cases involved drug diversion and more than half of the cases reported involved substance abuse or alcohol.
Drug and Alcohol Violations: Top 30 License Types
They broke up the data by the top 30 License Types and found registered nurses had the highest number of offenses. When categorizing by adverse action, the data showed license suspension was at the top of the list followed by license probation. Adverse Actions vary depending on the state and severity of the violation.
Analyzing the Numbers
In an effort to reduce cases of medical malpractice, the National Practitioner Data Bank collects this information in order to improve the quality of healthcare in the nation and keep doctors and other physicians accountable. Sadly, doctors and hospitals can find loop-holes in the system that allow them to slip through the cracks of whats being reported to the NPDB.
The study mentions that there may discrepancies in the actual number of reported cases across the U.S. This is because its possible many violations fall under the radar of what is considered a "reportable offense". Under Title IV of Public Law 99-660, most hospitals are required to report offending physicians and doctors. However, "If the medical professional voluntarily surrenders clinical privileges but is not under any current investigation, their adverse action is not reported in the NPDB." This could suggest that many physicians willingly "surrender" their privileges in exchange for their privacy.
Doctors and nurses are typically considered high functioning alcoholics who have much easier access to powerful prescription drugs that are highly addictive. The numbers in the data bank are valuable, but its very likely that they under-represent a more serious problem happening in the healthcare community.
Elevating Risks for Substance Abuse in the Healthcare Field
Many health professionals do face an elevated risk of addiction. There are many reasons to explain this. In fact, according to a long list of troubling statistics, up to 15 percent of doctors are drug addicts and about 69 percent of doctors have at some point abused prescription drugs to alleviate stress and the physical and emotional toll their jobs take on their day to day life.
Sadly, many professionals tend to rarely seek medical help for fear they may lose their license. According to a report, physicians and healthcare professionals make the top of the list for occupations with the highest rate of death by suicide. More often than not, depression leads many to substance abuse. The good news is that doctors who do choose to seek help for their addictions often excel in rehab. Many states also have Physician Health Services to help distressed or addicted doctors.
A large national study by Mayo Clinic also found that physician burnout and fatigue was directly related to medical errors. Sadly, many of these factors may explain why so many healthcare workers turn to substance abuse.