A new survey has been conducted to update information first gathered in the 1990's on the incidence of drug abuse among anesthesiologists. This time, information was gathered from anesthesia residency program directors for the period 2007-2017. The rate of response for the survey was 35% with 52 directors answering the questionnaire.
What the researchers discovered is as disheartening as the earlier poll. Among 2,100 residents in the programs that responded, 3.7% had substance abuse problems. The most common drug that was used was IV opioids with 39%. This was followed by Propofol (20%), and alcohol (15.2%).
The rate of anesthesia faculty abusing drugs was 1.16%. The most common substances used were alcohol (50%), IV opioids (23.7%), and smaller percentages of prescription medications, street drugs, and anesthetic agents.
For anesthesia residents who are found to be abusing drugs, it could be the end of their anesthesia careers. While 52% of the programs will pay for treatment, 13% felt it was the resident's own responsibility for their rehab. Worse, 43.6% of programs do not allow the residents to come back to finish their training. By comparison, the programs paid for faculty treatment 70% of the time. Many programs also continued to pay faculty salary and benefits while they're on sick leave.
These numbers demonstrate that we as a profession have a long way to go to identify and help people who may become or are already addicted to drugs. The rate of resident drug abuse is twice the percentage from twenty years ago. Anesthesiologists already have the highest rate of drug abuse and suicide among medical professionals. The ASA leadership and residency program directors need to conduct more education to prevent the next generation of anesthesiologists from falling into the abyss.
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