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HOT TOPICS: Drug and Alcohol Treatment  Heroin

Anesthesiologists Run High Addiction Risk

For some docs, the stress of the job, combined with access to powerful opioids, is an Rx for disaster.

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Too many anesthesiologists get high on
their own supply. Photo via

By Hunter R. Slaton

02/14/12

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As anyone who’s ever watched Scarface knows, one ironclad commandment of dealing drugs is: Don’t get high on your own supply. Of course, that proved difficult for Tony Montana—and the same goes for anesthesiologists, who, even though they make up only three percent of all doctors, account for 20-30% of addicted doctors. Why? For one, they have access, having learned the ins and outs of the dispensing systems which regulate the powerful substances—including fentanyl and sufentanil, respectively 100 and 1,000 times stronger than good-old morphine—which they employ to knock out patients going under the knife. Having learned the system, these highly trained medical professionals can figure out how to subvert it, diverting certain amounts of drugs for their own use by ginning up sham records, or reporting viable drug doses as broken or wasted—meaning they can then pocket the doses. Another reason is stress—keeping a patient alive during major surgery is no short order—and yet another is simple, if deadly, curiosity. In an educational video series about drug abuse in anesthesia called Wearing Masks, one anesthesiologist addict in recovery recalls having thought, “It can’t hurt me to inject two or three cc’s. I want to try it once, just once. Maybe twice.”

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