Pubdate: Wed, 27 Aug 2014
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2014 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Stephen Loyd
Note: Dr. Stephen Loyd of Johnson City, Tennessee, is an associate 
professor of medicine at East Tennessee State University. He wrote 
this article for this newspaper.
Page: A14


Opponents of random drug testing of doctors, as a ballot proposition 
on the November ballot in California would require, say it's an 
unnecessary intrusion on doctors' privacy. Maybe testing is necessary 
for pilots and truckers, they say, but not for doctors because we are 
not in professions that affect public safety.

As a doctor uniquely qualified to know, I say that is dead wrong.

In fact, I held patients' lives in my hands when I practiced medicine 
while high on narcotic drugs for 3 1/2 years. I made errors. My 
patients were lucky that I was surrounded by other doctors and nurses 
who politely questioned my decisions and had my back. They saw that 
something was wrong, but none of them confronted me.

Self-policing in the medical profession is nearly nonexistent. It's 
one of the reasons I so strongly support Proposition 46, which would 
require periodic on-the-job drug and alcohol testing of doctors.

I became addicted to prescription narcotics during my internal 
medicine residency and practiced medicine for years without anyone 
turning me in. I was taking about 100 pills a day: oxycodone, 
Vicodin, benzodiazepines, Valium, Xanax, Clonopin.

While high, I thought I was a better doctor. I thought I was sharper, 
that I didn't need sleep, that I didn't need to eat, that I could 
work longer hours and see more patients. I thought I was invincible, 
but my judgment was severely impaired.

My colleagues knew something was wrong, that I wasn't the guy I used 
to be. They didn't want to hurt my livelihood. They didn't want to 
damage my reputation. Instead, they covered for me.

Today, I try to help doctors in the same situation. But we don't have 
the culture or ability to selfpolice. Nurses report to doctors. Other 
doctors see themselves as colleagues. There is incredible 
professional pressure not to snitch.

I've been sober for more than 10 years, but there is much for which I 
need to account. As many as 440,000 Americans die every year from 
preventable medical errors: It's the thirdhighest cause of death 
behind heart disease and cancer. Those physicians who are high or 
drunk are more likely to harm people, but we can't count the toll 
because of a system that so thoroughly protects the impaired.

Luckily for me, my father intervened. When he did, I felt like a guy 
who was out in the middle of the ocean and someone had come by and 
swung in a life raft. There's a good percentage of others out there 
who are adrift.

Impaired physicians need that tap on the shoulder. Many are just 
waiting for it, as I was. Let us identify them and help them fix 
their lives before they take innocent people with them.

I've been asked: "What if someone reads this and realizes that you 
might have harmed them?" It's very possible that I have, and if so, I 
need to be held accountable.

Bob Pack, the proponent of Proposition 46, lost his children, Troy 
and Alana, because of medical negligence. I don't understand how you 
can look at him and what happened to his family and say we don't need 
to do anything. This is preventable.

As doctors, we must first do no harm. The Bible teaches us: 
"Physician, heal thyself." Addicted doctors can indeed heal, but not 
without the detection and confrontation that makes them face their demons.

Proposition 46 is the first step.
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