Doctors fight their own addictions amid the opioid crisis

Doctors battle their own addictions amid the opioid crisis

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - As our nation continues to face a growing opioid crisis, many are searching for ways to combat the problem. But addiction can happen to anyone, even health care professionals.

Stress, long hours and easy access to medications make physicians particularly vulnerable. Some even believe familiarity with opioids can give doctors a “false sense” that they can use them without developing a problem, but that’s not the case. Studies show 10 to 15% of doctors will develop substance abuse at some point in their lives, which is about the same rate as the general public.

A 2014 review published in the Medical Student Research Journal stated researchers found physicians have a higher rate of prescription drug abuse than the general population because of their access to medications. Their access not only can act as an influence for drug misuse, but also as a driving force. Most doctors who reported a history of self-medication suffering from chronic pain related to surgery or trauma admitted their medical use transitioned to recreational use over time.

Medical director of Faces and Voices of Recovery Grand Strand, Dr. Victor Archambeau, is 25 years in recovery and uses his experience to help others find a path to recovery. He says a major reason why doctors stay silent is because they feel they have nowhere to turn without facing serious repercussions, like losing their license and harming their reputation.

“I think sometimes the issue with doctors is we think we understand the process and the biochemistry and the pharmacology, and so it provides us some sort of “protection” from becoming addicted," said Archambeau.

Because of the growing opioid epidemic, there’s recovery programs available for medical professionals across the nation. The Recovering Professionals Program in South Carolina is a five-year program designed specifically for medical professionals. Archambeau attends the meetings to help other doctors get back on the road to recovery and says the success rate is high.

“Our program is very successful. About 95 percent of physicians who enter the program are still active and engaged at the end of five years. Some even will just keep themselves accountable and will sign up for an ongoing participation after five years, just to help keep them on track,” said Archambeau.

He also believes the stigma surrounding addiction needs to be addressed.

“Reducing the stigma. People are afraid to talk about it, they’re afraid to admit it. I have colleagues that I know are in recovery, they work with other physicians in recovery, but they’re not public about the recovery," said Archambeau.

Archambeau says there’s three key elements to treating the addiction crisis: education, treatment and recovery. Moving forward, he says the road to recovery needs to be more individualized.

“We focused a lot on the education, prevention part of it. And we focused a lot on treatment centers and detoxes. We have not focused on the recovery side of it," said Archambeau.

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