Addiction rates high among physicians, but they respond well to rehab

Given their high stress jobs and easy access to drugs, physicians are prone to drug and alcohol abuse, writes Peter Grinspoon, M.D., in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times.

Grinspoon, a primary care physician in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, knows firsthand about the problem, which he finally admitted to when he had state police and a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in his office charging him with three felony counts of fraudulent prescribing.

Grinspoon, author of the book "Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts His Addiction," says he was addicted to prescription opiates. While addiction rates among the general population run from 8 percent to 10 percent, among physicians they start at 10 percent and rise to 15 percent, Grinspoon says. Only rarely do doctors who get addicted to drugs, seek help, he says.

In recovery since 2007, Grinspoon regained the medical license he lost and joined the Physician Health Service as an associate director, helping other addicted doctors. The good news is that physicians, once they get help, succeed in rehab at rates of 70 percent to 80 percent, which for addiction is very high, he writes.

Still, state medical boards, instead of treating addiction as a disease, more often handle it like a crime, he says. Most state medical societies operate a Physician Health Service, which cooperates with the medical board to help troubled doctors. However, doctors have no assurance that agreeing to treatment and monitoring will keep the medical board from punishing them, Grinspoon  says. "When doctors abuse drugs and alcohol, they must be met with compassion and care," he writes.

To learn more:
- read the opinion piece