A shocking number of doctors are getting high on their own supply

A shocking number of doctors are getting high on their own supply

VicesJanuary 04, 2018 By Tierney Nash

Self-medication gets bumped up to a whole new level when you can just sit down and write yourself an Oxy prescription.

If ever you’ve been to the doctor, had a real confusing conversation about how your knee injury could be treated with Viagra, and thought: “Man, they’ve got to be stoned right now,” there's a good chance you're probably right.

In fact, your local holier-than-thou doc who encourages more exercise no matter what's ailing, may just be stoned at this very moment. Studies suggest right now, a whopping 10 to 14 percent of doctors and nurses may be addicted to the pills they’re pushing. Incredibly, that number is actually higher than for the general population; only 9.4 percent of us without medical degrees admit to using illicit substances within the past month, according to a national survey by DrugAbuse.gov.

So why are doctors, the white-coated emblems of health, getting smacked up on pharmaceuticals slightly more often than the rest of us? Well, because they can, and because being a doctor is a mad stressful power trip.

Think about it: any doctor has access to their own prescription pads, and even if they can’t do it themselves, they likely have a friend in the industry that can. Failing that, they can always just steal from what's on hand at work. But unlike the rest of us, this isn’t something so harmless as stealing paper clips from the office to stick it to the man.

Having an addicted doctor is a bit like getting a tattoo in the filthiest corner of Detroit: it could be safe, and you really won’t know until after — it’s one hell of a risk. In both cases, look out for those needles. Just like your local dirty parlor, they don’t mean to cause a disaster for you, they’re just not doing so hot and aren’t being as careful as they should. This is a huge problem among anesthesiologists today, who have inordinately high rates of abusing Fentanyl, which is a painkiller given to patients post-surgery.

It's even happening in Colorado. Five years ago in Denver, one Kristen Diane Parker became a prime example of what can happen with hospital staff members abusing drugs.

According to a report by the AP, “[Parker] admitted stealing syringes filled with Fentanyl from operating carts while employed at Denver's Rose Medical Center and Colorado Springs' Audubon Surgery Center. Parker told prosecutors she injected herself with the Fentanyl, then replaced it with saline. She said she intended to put the saline in clean needles but got careless.”

Parker, a surgery tech addicted to heroine, was charged with 20 years for infecting 30 people and exposing up to 6,000 to Hepatitis C. She doesn’t condone her actions, and defended herself by saying “I don’t expect anyone to forgive me for what I’ve done. You know, I’m human. I was a drug addict.”

Yet, despite the seriousness of the issue, whether they’re shooting Fentanyl recreationally or snatching Vicodin to self-medicate, most doctor’s substance abuse problems are hush-hush. For both doctors' colleagues inside of the workplace and family outside, the truth about their addiction often doesn’t come out until long after it’s annihilated their social life. Cause ya know, docs are workaholics with big fancy reputations to uphold.

Not all doctors or all addictions are created equal however, so here’s some stats from a study from the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings on doctors and their favorite poisons:

  • 50.3% are primarily alcoholics
  • 35.9% take mostly opioids, which means Oxycodone, Oxycontin, and Morphine
  • 7.9% primarily use stimulants, which means Methamphetamine, Cocaine, etc.

On top of this, half of docs on drugs admit to using multiple substances, which means any possible cocktail of the above options.

Right about now, you might be kind of incredulous about this. After all, how is someone who's basically negotiating the balance of sickness and health in your body supposed to not kill you when they're hallucinating fireworks during your prostate exam? The thing is, once you get past being upset that your pocket patron saint of personal health might be stoned or buzzed while working on your body, it kinda starts to make sense why they’d be getting drugged up during work hours.

Doctors work crazy schedules, and while lots of us trudge through our standard forty-hour desk job job feeling like Edward Norton in Fight Club, docs today are pulling an average  of 51 hours a week, a ten percent decline within the past decade. On top of that, these are the people that are expected to fix your everything, who are responsible for your life. And they can’t just take naps in the office bathroom like I did on a rough day. That's a lot of stress and responsibility.

Under all this stress, for sure people are going to turn to super-available drugs and alcohol to cope. Not because they’re terrible people with terrible judgment, but because that’s one of the main reasons people have been getting stoned since just about the beginning of humankind.

Besides the stress factor, they are the closest things we have on this Earth to guardians of life and death, and that’s a huge ego boost. They even have their own oath to swear that they will not go to the dark side. We know this is true because it’s all over the media, think wild sexy Grey’s Anatomy drama, or Nurse Jackie’s pill popping, or everything about House. We all love a little ER drama, but let’s stop pretending our medical professionals are Gods amongst mortals. Everyone needs to get a little fucked up now and then, and no one should be doing it while operating on your trachea, but given the context laid out above, you an see why doctors might have an above average proclivity for self-medication.

So how about we stop pushing our doctors to the breaking point? How about we make the medical school process easier to understand and less focused on pushing people so far that they’re weeded out of the process? Of course we want our doctors to be the best of the best, but the lady who’s just been working for twelve hours straight and looks more like a Walking Dead extra than a real live human probably isn't going to augment your breasts the way you'd like her to.

If only there was a drug doctors could abuse that would wear off almost instantly yet still give them that affected, melodramatic medical dramedy feeling they crave ... Oh yeah, DMT. DMT for all!

[Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash]