Physicians and drug misuse: 5 takeaways from allegations against former USC Keck medical school dean

Allegations Carmen Puliafito, MD, former dean of Los Angeles-based USC's Keck School of Medicine, used drugs such as methamphetamine and ecstasy have drawn attention to drug use and addiction among physicians — and how the healthcare industry may hinder a physician from receiving treatment.

Here are five takeaways about substance abuse among physicians in the U.S.

1. Though physicians are likely to engage in drug misuse at about the same rate as the general population, they are more reluctant to seek addiction treatment and counseling because it may result in a potential loss of their medical license, according to The Los Angeles Times.

2. Some experts suggest physicians are also much more familiar with the common symptoms and signs of drug misuse, and are therefore able to hide their addiction for longer.

"There's an invulnerability: 'Well, I'll just do this the right way and it'll never be a problem. I'll just do this the right way and I'll never overdose,'" said Marvin Seppala, MD, CMO of Center City, Minn.-based Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. "Somehow they believe their knowledge is going to be more powerful than addiction."

3. Physicians in California — like Dr. Puliafito — may be more reluctant to address their addictions since the state ended its rehabilitation program for physicians in 2008. The program allowed physicians in the state to seek treatment without the threat of losing their medical license. However, state officials ended the program because several state audits found it was failing. The "vast majority" of states still maintain some variation of a rehabilitation program for physicians, the report states.

4. Lisa Merlo, PhD, a psychiatry professor at the University of Florida School of Medicine in Gainesville, said physicians are most commonly addicted to alcohol, followed by opiates. Physicians with the most addiction problems tend to be anesthesiologists, emergency room physicians and psychiatrists, according to the report.

5. Nurses and hospital staff may be less inclined to report a physician with a substance misuse issue out of fear of losing their jobs. Similarly, hospital officials may point to declining revenues as a reason to not send physicians to rehabilitation.

"[Hospital executives] may be really resistant to putting … a neurosurgeon or [someone who's] a big income producer for the hospital [into treatment]," Dr. Seppala told The Los Angeles Times. "You've got some perverse incentives."

To read the full report, click here.

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