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Home >  E-Weekly >  December 10, 2013

Are Anesthesiologists at Greater Risk of Substance Abuse?

Published: December 9, 2013

Substance abuse by anesthesia residents is at an all-time high, raising fears of relapses that could jeopardize providers' lives and patients' safety, says a study recently published in JAMA.

According to the study, less than 1% of the nearly 45,000 anesthesiologists in training between 1975 and 2009 developed substance use disorder, which involves the misuse or abuse of substances such as illegal drugs or alcohol. In the study, the most commonly abused substance was intravenous opioids, followed by alcohol, marijuana or cocaine, anesthetics and oral opioids.

The overall rate of abuse is small, but the researchers note that the highest rates have occurred since 2003. "Residents who develop substance use problems are at high risk for relapse after treatment or, in some cases, die as a result of the disorder," says study lead author David Warner, MD, of the anesthesiology department at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiology's board of directors.

Approximately 43% of abusers experience at least 1 relapse within 30 years of the initial episode, according to the study, which also notes that at least 11% of anesthesiologists in training with substance use disorder died as a result of it, regardless of the substances they took.

Dr. Warner says his research didn't directly link substance abuse to patient harm, but it follows that impaired anesthesiologists could put patients at risk. He calls for healthcare professionals to identify and address substance abuse as quickly and effectively as possible in order to protect the abusers and their patients.

Daniel Cook

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