Anesthesiologists' substance abuse constant despite efforts

DURHAM, N.C. -- Despite improved control of operating room medications and increased education, the rate of substance abuse among anesthesiologists remains unchanged, according to a new Duke University Medical Center survey.

The anonymous survey of more than 100 academic medical centers found substance abuse rates of 1 percent for anesthesiology faculty members (34 out of 3,555) and 1.6 percent for anesthesiology residents (133 out of 8,111) during the 1990s.

The researchers emphasize that actual use of the controlled substance occurred outside of the operating room setting during the doctors' personal time, and that there were no reports of patient harm occurring as a result of impaired physicians.

"Efforts to reduce substance abuse among anesthesiologists have focused on education and tighter regulation of controlled substances, but it appears that these efforts have had little effect," said Duke anesthesiologist John Booth, M.D. "It is clear that new and more effective means of prevention are required if substance abuse among anesthesiologists is to be reduced."

Booth is the lead author of a study in the October 2002 issue of the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia.

For Booth, a national databank of all doctors who are having substance abuse problems should be established to identify at-risk doctors and get them help before it becomes too late.

"Another possible solution is random drug testing, which is now commonplace in most work settings in the U.S.," Booth said. "While many of the issues involved in testing has made it unpopular, our survey found that a majority of the department chairpersons at American academic institutions would support such an idea. It is important that all anesthesiologists involve themselves in the debate on this issue."

The 26-question survey was sent to the chairpersons of anesthesiology at 133 academic medicals centers, and 123 responded. The questions cove

Contact: Richard Merritt
Duke University Medical Center

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