View Full Version : Survive Your Doctor: The Junkie in the O.R.

11-20-2006, 07:29 PM
Some doctors are addicted to the very drugs they prescribe. Find out why going under the knife could be more dangerous than you think. Part two of a three-part series.

Diarrhea was Jeffrey Junig's alarm clock. Boiling in his guts at 3 in the morning, it would send him staggering to the bathroom, panting and coughing, his sweat-soaked hand shaking on the knob. He had to be quiet, fiercely quiet, because good God—what if his wife found out?

The secrecy was almost as awful as the sickness. He hated those moments when he had to look his wife in the eye and lie, "Nah, just a little tired," or, "Probably caught that flu going around the hospital," or whatever other b.s. he could muster just to get away from her long enough to slip into the bathroom and slide a needle into his ankle.

At least this wasn't his day off, Dr. Junig told himself as he slumped miserably on the toilet. It's tough being an addicted anesthesiologist, but it does have its perks: You get your fix on the job, the drugs are free and if one of your patients dies on the table, well... that's just another tragedy chalked up to "unforeseen complications."

One of the most dangerous and best-kept secrets of the medical profession is the epidemic of anesthesiologists who are addicted to their own drugs. More than 400 drug-addicted anesthesiologists and residents may be working in operating rooms at this moment, based on the findings of separate studies by John Booth, M.D., a former Duke University anesthesiologist, and Mark S. Gold, M.D., a psychiatry professor at the University of Florida's McKnight Brain Institute.

That means the next time you lie on an operating table and close your eyes, your odds of ever opening them again could be in the hands of someone who's injecting himself every six hours with fentanyl, a painkiller that's 100 times more potent than morphine. He'll be suspending you in a near-death state—slowing your heart, numbing your nerves, loosening your grip on consciousness—while simultaneously siphoning off drugs for himself and, at times, shooting up right in the middle of the operation. One mistake and you could end up dead, or in a never-ending coma.

Dr. Gold became aware of how many anesthesiologists were diverting drugs into their own veins while he was assessing 20 years' worth of confidential records at the Physicians Recovery Network, an intervention and rehabilitation organization. He was struck by how often "anesthesiology" turned up as an addicted doctor's specialty, so he began tabulating. Dr. Gold has been an addiction expert for more than 30 years, but even that didn't prepare him for the total: Anesthesiologists are overrepresented by a staggering 500 percent.

"We ran the numbers in a variety of permutations," Dr. Gold says, "and each way you look at it—year by year, consecutive cases, age group—it's clear that anesthesiologists are by far the most likely to have chemical-dependency (http://www.srch-results.com/lm/rtl3.asp?si=77&k=chemical%20dependency) problems."

Dr. Booth came up with slightly lower but equally alarming figures. When he surveyed the anesthesiology chiefs at 133 teaching hospitals in 2002, he found that the faculty anesthesiologists and their anesthesiology residents were four times more likely to have had substance-abuse (http://www.srch-results.com/lm/rtl3.asp?si=77&k=substance%20abuse) problems than other physicians. And that includes only the addicts who had been caught.