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Why Do Some Doctors Abuse Prescription Drugs?

‘Self-medication’ is key reason, study finds (October 4)

Doctors who abuse prescription drugs often do so for “self-medication” — whether for physical or emotional pain or stress relief, reports a study from the University of Florida, Gainesville. The findings were published in the October issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

Based on focus groups with physicians in treatment for substance abuse, the study provides insights into the reasons why some doctors abuse prescription medications — as well as important implications for prevention and recognition.

In anonymous discussions, the researchers talked about reasons for prescription drug abuse with 55 physicians in recovery. The doctors were being monitored for substance abuse as part of their state’s physician health program. Sixty-nine percent of the physicians had abused prescription drugs, in addition to alcohol and illicit drugs.

Of five major themes that emerged in the focus groups, three were related to “self-medication” using prescription drugs. Like other substance abusers, many of the physicians said they also used drugs recreationally — to “get high.” Others said they used prescription drugs to treat symptoms of drug withdrawal.

The rate of drug misuse by doctors is similar to that in the general population. However, because they have access, physicians seem more likely to use prescription drugs, according to the authors.

The researchers suggest that prevention efforts targeting prescription drug misuse by physicians should start during medical training, with required continuing education throughout their careers. Education should include strong messages to doctors that they must seek qualified medical care for pain or other medical problems, as well as for psychiatric or emotional concerns, rather than trying to treat themselves.

“All physicians should learn the signs of substance abuse and the procedure for intervening with a colleague suspected of substance-related impairment,” said lead author Lisa J. Merlo, PhD, MPE.

Source: Wolters Kluwer; October 4, 2013.

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