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 Health Care Professionals and Addiction

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Registration date : 2008-11-09

PostSubject: Health Care Professionals and Addiction   Sun 26 Dec 2010, 1:21 am

Healthcare professionals face unique addiction challenges

Richard Ready went from chief resident of neurosurgery to the streets. As many as 10% of those in healthcare are battling addiction. Their easy access makes it easy to start, and their 'intellectualization' of drug use makes it harder to seek help.

Reporting from Chicago — By the time Richard Ready became chief resident of neurosurgery at a prominent Chicago-area hospital, prescription drugs kept him going.

Stimulants to stay alert through his daily rounds. Heavy pain relievers to numb his emotions after his mother's death. A powerful sedative to calm his nerves.

In the second year of his residency, Ready became a regular user of a type of Tylenol mixed with codeine. He'd steal them by the dozens and carry them inside a little plastic bag in the pocket of his lab coat. His tolerance was so high that he'd take up to 70 pills a day to stave off withdrawal.

"Sometimes I'd be standing in the operating room and it'd look like I had the flu," Ready said. "So I'd excuse myself and I'd run into the bathroom, eat 10 [Tylenol with codeine], and in maybe five or 10 minutes I'd be normal again."

Ready's battle with drug addiction may seem extreme, but it's a common fight inside hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. Some studies suggest as many as 10% of those in the healthcare field are using drugs or battling some level of addiction, a rate similar to that in other white-collar jobs.

What makes doctors and other medical professionals unique, experts say, is their knowledge of the hardships of heavy drug use, their easy access to medication and the risk their addictions pose to patients.

"To go to a doctor who is impaired can really have deadly consequences. It's no different than an airline pilot who is using drugs or alcohol in that you're often dealing with life-and-death circumstances," said Steve Levin, a medical malpractice attorney in Chicago.

Ready knows his clouded judgment put patients at grave risk. But as far as he knows, he said, he never harmed a patient in the operating room.

"You become two people. You become what you want other people to see and you become what you are," said Ready, 66, who has been sober for 25 years and is now an addiction specialist treating other medical professionals in the Adventist hospital system in Chicago's suburbs.

Ready recently began counseling a respected nurse on leave from a hospital who used bathroom breaks to inject herself with the strong narcotic pain reliever Dilaudid. She said she needed the drug to keep herself together at work because her home life was in shambles, Ready said.

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Written by: Joel Hood of the Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles


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