New Study Asks Physicians Why They Abuse Prescription Drugs

Getting to know your primary care physician…

Many people in the United States are fortunate enough to have a primary care physician (PCP). And yes, we do understand that there are millions of American who do not have a PCP and resort to visiting hospital emergency departments or urgent care facilities to receive medical care. Getting to know your PCP may take years…and the truth is we may never feel completely at ease with our physicians. They might intimidate you or be short with you…it could be that if you do not have a chronic condition you may only see your PCP at most once during a year.

We tend to put physicians on a pedestal. We admire their commitment to their education, their medical knowledge and their willingness to provide medical care to those in need. Sometimes our image of physicians is based on ones we have seen in various television series or movies. Consider television’s Dr. Welby, Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, Chicago Hope, St. Elsewhere, House, and more here. And here is a pretty good list of favorite movies about doctors.

What we all sometimes forget is that physicians are human, too. And this means that they, too, can suffer from the disease of addiction.

New study looks at why doctors abuse prescription drugs…

The results of a new study were published in the September/October 2013 issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine: Reasons for Misuse of Prescription Medication Among Physicians Undergoing Monitoring by a Physician Health Program. The lead author of the study was Lisa J. Merlo, PhD. of the University of Florida.

The study’s parameters…

According to the study abstract the purpose of the research “was to identify reasons for prescription drug misuse among physicians referred to a physician health program for monitoring because of substance-related impairment, to develop better mechanisms for prevention and intervention.”

The researchers employed the following methods to conduct the research:

  • 55 physicians participated in the study
  • 94.5% of the participants were male
  • Each participant was in recovery and was being monitored by their State physician health program because of substance-related impairment
  • Participation was anonymous
  • There were nine (9) focus groups which held discussions, with each discussion group lasting 60 – 90 minutes.


Study’s results:

The researchers determined that while all participants had a diagnosis of substance dependence, 69.1% also had a history of abusing/misusing prescription drugs. The physicians offered five reasons for prescription drug misuse: (1) to manage physical pain; (2) to manage emotional/psychiatric distress; (3) to manage stressful situations; (4) to serve recreational purposes; and (5)to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

According to the press release issued regarding this study:

The researchers suggest that prevention efforts targeting prescription drug misuse by physicians should start during medical training, with required continuing education throughout their careers. Education should include strong messages to doctors that they must seek qualified medical care for pain or other medical problems, as well as for psychiatric or emotional concerns—rather than trying to treat themselves. Dr Merlo and colleagues add, “All physicians should learn the signs of substance abuse and the procedure for intervening with a colleague suspected of substance-related impairment.”


Starting the intervention process for a friend or co-worker

If you have a friend or co-worker who is suffering from addiction, by now they may have already alienated themselves from their families and other friends, and your friendship may be on the brink. While in the grips of addiction, friends are often selfish, takers rather than givers, lack proper boundaries and may have started exhibiting behavioral changes like being snappy, stressed or engaging in risky behavior like stealing or sexual promiscuity. No matter what is done to help them, such as endless hours of advice and recommendations, they seem to get worse. A sense of frustration may arise wondering why nothing you do seems to help and yet they keep taking from you.

This is when outside help can be the most impacting. Bringing in a neutral person that can help the addict face the reality of their addiction can be transformative. Interventions allow the person suffering to hold up a mirror and see their suffering for what it is. They often realize they are exhausted (as are you) and submit to addiction treatment.

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