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Substance Abuse Resurfaces Among Anesthesiologists in Training

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, December 4, 2013

Nearly 1% of anesthesiology residents showed substance use disorders, including some who died as a result, and nearly half of those caught had a relapse, says a new report. "This is still a big problem within our specialty," says the study author.

While in residency training, nearly 1% of anesthesiologists exhibited substance use disorders, including some who died as a result, says a report that bolsters a perception that this specialty group has a unique and disturbing problem with drugs and alcohol.

Of those anesthesiology residents who were caught but survived their addiction episodes, perhaps undergoing treatment that continued their medical careers, nearly half experienced a relapse over the next 30 years, according to the report published in Tuesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

"I hope this increases awareness that this is still a big problem within our specialty," says lead author David Warner, MD, of the Mayo Clinic Department of Anesthesiology in Rochester, MN.

In the 1990s, highly publicized addiction-related deaths of several anesthesiology residents prompted major efforts to educate residents and their spouses, and the numbers of addiction cases seemed to drop. Now, however, those numbers are back up, and Warner says the threat of substance abuse has not gotten across to residents. "I don't think there's a good perception that this is still what I consider a big problem."

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