Pubdate: Fri, 09 Sep 2005
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2005 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Bookmark: (Treatment)


BAR HARBOR - For just about everyone struggling to overcome an addiction to 
alcohol, narcotics or other drugs, long sections of the road back to normal 
life are quagmires of shame, guilt and deep depression. But for doctors and 
other professionals, these personal battles are often compounded by other, 
external threats - including losing the esteem of their colleagues, the 
confidence of their clients or patients, and potentially, their license to 
practice in a field they've committed their lives to.

In rural states like Maine, health care professionals are in especially 
short supply. And the same factors that can delay a physician's entry into 
treatment can act as powerful motivators to recovery, returning addicted 
doctors and other professionals to productive life more reliably than in 
the general population.

At a daylong conference in Bar Harbor on Thursday, physicians, dentists and 
other health care practitioners, as well as attorneys and other legal 
professionals, gathered to learn more about their increased occupational 
risk of developing a substance abuse problem, practical and emotional 
obstacles to seeking treatment, and the reporting requirements of the law.

Offered as a joint presentation of the Maine Medical Association's 
Physician Health Program and the Maine Assistance Program for Lawyers and 
Judges, the conference drew about 60 professionals from across the state to 
the Harborside Hotel in Bar Harbor. PHP extends its services to physician 
assistants, dentists and dental hygienists as well as to medical doctors 
and doctors of osteopathy. MAP provides services to paralegal practitioners 
and legal secretaries as well as to lawyers and judges.

In his opening presentation, Dr. Michael Gendel, president of the national 
Federation of State Physician Health Plans, said chronic substance abuse, 
addiction and mental illnesses such as depression or other conditions are 
especially insidious diseases to treat - and physicians and other 
professionals are especially prideful and resistant to acknowledging their 
need for help in combating these disorders.

Professionals need to be in control, they intellectualize their emotions, 
they have a strong aversion to asking for help and they always think they 
know best, he said. And because doctors and attorneys have a strong 
motivation to protect their hard-earned professional status and their 
livelihoods, the workplace is often the last place a substance abuse 
problem will surface, Gendel said. Community involvement, spiritual 
connections, recreational interests, personal friendships and family 
relationships usually bear the brunt of the disease, he said.

"By the time you notice your colleague's in trouble at the office, he's 
probably just about dead," Gendel told participants.

The good news, he said, is that once committed to their recovery, 
professionals on the whole fare better than the general public, bolstered 
by their high levels of education, their general financial stability, their 
concern for their families' well-being and their desire to resume life as 
highly-valued members of society.

Maine PHP offers its clients a variety of services, including contracting 
on their behalf with the state's Board of Licensure in Medicine. By 
ensuring that physicians get appropriate treatment and intensive follow-up 
- - which can include job-site monitoring, random urine testing and verified 
regular attendance at 12-step recovery programs such as private Alcoholics 
Anonymous meetings just for physicians - program director Dr. David Simmons 
said PHP helps keep valuable, competent doctors practicing in Maine and 
minimizes the disciplinary role of the licensing board.

Over the program's 18 years in existence, he said, about 400 physicians and 
other health care providers have been supported in their treatment and 
returned to practice. Half have voluntarily sought out the program, and 
half have been referred by the licensing board.

For physicians who seek PHP services before any formal complaints are filed 
against them by patients or concerned colleagues, no information is made 
available to the public, he noted - another motivator for seeking help 
early on. Physicians who are referred to PHP by the licensing board as the 
result of a complaint or an investigation do have a public record.

Physicians who fail to progress in the voluntary program may be reported to 
the licensing board to face other disciplinary actions, including loss of 

David Kee, director of the assistance program for judges and lawyers, said 
MAP doesn't exchange information or sign treatment contracts with the Maine 
Board of Licensure for the Bar. That takes some of the external motivation 
to succeed out of the program, he said, but also eliminates one reason why 
legal professionals might put off seeking help for substance abuse or other 
problems that may affect their careers. "There's no downside to coming to 
us," he said.

MAP has operated for about two years and provided service to about 180 
legal professionals.

More information on the Physician Health Program may be obtained by phoning 
623-9266. Call the Maine Assistance Program for Lawyers and Judges 
toll-free at (800) 530-4627.
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MAP posted-by: Elizabeth Wehrman