they abused alcohol, prescription drugs or illicit
“This is according to federal data and yet we
don’t have any way to detect this,” according to
Consumer Watchdog. “We don’t have any way to
stop doctors and other medical professionals from
Several factors contribute to a prescription
painkiller epidemic in the health care field, said
Joanna Shepherd-Bailey, a professor at Emory
University School of Law in Atlanta.
“A few rogue physicians and pharmacists enable
drug abusers by illegally prescribing or supplying
controlled substances,” said Shepherd-Bailey.
“Other physicians do not have adequate training to
recognize and address prescription drug abuse, and as
Substance abuse among physicians, nurses,
dentists and pharmacists can affect their personal
lives, but it often is also linked to medical errors,
liability and a decline in patient safety.
To counter such abuse, Minnesota Gov. Mark
Dayton signed a new law in May that will tighten
oversight of problem nurses and other licensed
health care providers.
Provisions include requiring employers to report
nurses who have stolen drugs, and requiring the
state drug monitoring program to provide more data
to the state Nursing Board about nurses who have
harmed patients and stolen drugs.
One crucial aspect of the new legislation is
tightening regulations to make it easier for health
licensing boards to immediately suspend a health
care worker if the board believes the person
“presents an imminent risk of harm.”
“We did as much as we thought we could because
legally, of course, a person has due process so there
has to be a balance between a person’s right to due
process and the need of the public to be safe from
persons who might not be safe practitioners,” said
Rep. Tina Liebling, D-Rochester, a key architect of
the legislation and chair of the state’s House Health
and Human Services Policy Committee.
“We did tighten things up considerably. We put in
an immediate review by the board and also language
that says if there’s an imminent risk of harm, they
must temporarily suspend a person’s license.”
On a national level, the federal Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) has proposed new restrictions
that would change regulations for some of the most
commonly prescribed narcotic painkillers.
The DEA proposal, open for public comment
since March, would specifically affect hydrocodone-combination pills, also known as opioids, which
combine hydrocodone with less potent painkillers
such as acetaminophen.
Under the proposed regulations, patients would
have to have a written prescription from a doctor
— instead of a prescription submitted orally over
the phone. Also, refills would be prohibited. Patients
would have to check in with the doctor to get
Drug-abusing health care professionals, however,
About 10 years ago, when Johnson City, Tenn.,
physician Stephen Loyd was practicing internal
medicine, often in an intensive care unit, he was
popping about 100 opioid pills a day, every day,
ingesting mainly oxycodone and Vicodin.
“You’d think that if a person was taking 100 pills
a day like that others would know,” Dr. Loyd said.
“But six weeks before I went into rehab, I stood at
a medical students’ graduation ceremony where I
was honored as one of 10 faculty members out of
100 who had the most influence on the students’
Today, a recovering addict, Dr, Loyd is the 2014
Advocate for Action for the White House’s Office of
National Drug Control Policy.
The scariest thing about his heavy drug
addiction, Loyd said, “was that I thought I was a
better doctor. I thought I was sharper, that I didn’t
need to sleep, that I didn’t need to eat. I thought I
could go longer and see more patients.”
In fact, his condition was worsening, though
none of his colleagues wanted to question it.
“Nobody said anything to me,” said Loyd, who
is now chief of medicine at the Mountain Home
VA Medical Center. “They didn’t want to hurt my
livelihood; they didn’t want to hurt my practice.”
Finally, it was his father who intervened on his
behalf. “The truth of the matter was that I was going
to die,” Loyd said. “And not only that, but there
was the possibility of hurting a lot of people. Now, it
makes me sick to think of the damage I could have
done to other people.”
Today, in addition to his work with the White
House and his practice, Loyd lectures on the
dangers of drug abuse in the medical profession.
EPIDEMIC OF ABUSE
Almost every day, medical professionals in
the United States — from doctors to nurses to
pharmacists — are censured for narcotics abuse,
resulting in harm to themselves and sometimes,
These individual actions are part of what the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has
classified as a national epidemic of prescription drug
According to the latest figures from the CDC, one
in 20 people aged 12 or older has used prescription
painkillers for non-medical reasons, and more than
2.1 million people in the country are addicted to
Prescription painkiller abuse is estimated to cost
BY STEVE YAHN
the United States more than $125 billion annually.
Consumer Watchdog, a California citizens’
advocacy group, said it examined federal data on
the combined problem of alcohol and drug abuse by
medical professionals and determined that 500,000
medical professionals in a given year self-report that
Addicted health care professionals are part of the national issue
of prescription drug abuse, but the hardest to find and treat.
RISK & INSURANCE®
RISK REPORT: HEALTH CARE
This Is Your Doc
• The CDC has recognized drug abuse by medical
professionals as part of a national epidemic.
• It is difficult to detect health care professionals who
are addicted to prescription drugs.
• Legal oversight, drug monitoring programs, and
alternative treatments can help combat the issue.
AS MANY as 500,000 medical professionals abuse drugs or alcohol each year.
OCTOBER 15, 2014