Addicted Doctors Need Special Service

February 06, 1998

(Missed problems and missed opportunities with addicted doctors. We need a special service for doctors addicted to drugs or alcohol)

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In an editorial in this week's BMJ, Strang et al argue that a dedicated service for addict doctors is now long overdue and is an important element that was insufficiently addressed by the otherwise excellent BMA report on the subject last month. Doctors are at special risk of developing addiction problems, say the authors, owing to the strain of medical practice, erosion of the taboo against injecting and opiates and access to supplies. Once addicted, doctors face a major problem in accessing effective treatment, finding themselves isolated and carrying a stigma, such that they feel that they cannot seek treatment from 'colleagues'.

Strang et al suggest that three components of care are essential:- access to treatment should be simple particularly in times of crisis; treatment should be at a dedicated unit with other addicted healthcare professionals and there should be special arrangements for supervision and post-treatment monitoring. The authors conclude that the phenomenon of the addicted doctor may shock and offend, but nevertheless must be addressed by both the profession and employers as an important cause of impaired performance through ill health.


Professor John Strang, Professor of the addictions, National Addiction Centre, The Maudsley/Institute of Psychiatry, London

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