Drug use is typically associated with youth, the entertainment industry and frequent partiers, but you might be surprised to learn how many “unexpected users” exist-including licensed professionals such as medical personnel. This demographic may not be using street drugs, but prescribed medicines like oxycodone and morphine are often a problem. When that’s the case, professionals aren’t just putting their careers on the line, but also the well-being of the patients or clients who rely on them.
In San Diego County, prescription drug overdoses are the #1 accidental killer. That alarming statistic reflects a number of things, including:
• The use of drugs legally prescribed by a physician
• The inability of prescription drug users to “self-diagnose” and see when the situation is out of control
Many professionals who find themselves dependent on prescription drugs are caring, competent and hard-working practitioners. Even the best people sometimes seek a way to avoid dealing with stress, divorce or financial challenges, and others started taking drugs to deal with a medical issue.
Painkillers are commonly overused, and savvy patients (or their loved ones) should try to make sure their consumption is as brief as possible. One of my friends blew a gasket when she learned her husband’s surgery to repair a degenerating disc was going to be postponed for six weeks-since that meant his use of oxy and morphine to control his pain would be extended. Her protests led to the surgery occurring as scheduled.
When even the most conscientious people are in pain, they’re simply not going to be advocates for their own benefit. When pain sufferers are prescribed strong narcotic painkillers, they may be unaware of the dangers of becoming dependent on prescription medication. Other patients may know of the dangers but be overwhelmed with medical concerns, doctor visits and the need to get things done while not at their best. The question all professionals should ask themselves is this: Would I want to be treated by someone who’s in my state of mind? If the answer is no, the right thing to do is seek help. Professionals have an obligation to be at their best when they’re doing their jobs.
Luckily, professionals who become dependent on controlled substances have plenty of motivation and treatment options. Many professional boards have rehab programs, as do insurance plans, and specialized treatment programs exist for healthcare professionals. Given the fact that these individuals are smart, disciplined and thoughtful enough to get the education and licenses needed to perform their duties, they clearly have a lot of the skills needed to end any dependencies.
Those who fail to seek help may find themselves being investigated by their licensing entity and perhaps even the criminal justice system. While I’m available to serve as an advocate when those situations arise, clients who voluntarily address their issues are likely to fare better with licensing agencies.