He adds that it's also unclear whether anesthesiologists have a higher rate of drug or alcohol addiction than other physician specialties. "This is the first real data on what the incidence and outcomes are of substance use of any population of physicians," he says, emphasizing that he hopes it will prompt more studies in other specialties.
Warner and his research team also amassed reports from the Federation of State Medical Boards, death records from the Social Security Administration, and several other sources. They discovered that 0.86% of anesthesiology residents had evidence of addiction, mostly to intravenous opioids but also to alcohol and other controlled pharmaceutical products.
"It's important to recognize that the actual incidence of this is probably higher than what we found, because some of these people are never caught. We're probably looking at the lower limit," Warner says.
The incidence of anesthesiology residents' substance use disorders seemed to plummet around the year 2000, he says. But the incidence has since climbed back up so that now, "the highest rates of use have been in the last five years. Things are just as bad as they ever were in terms of the incidence."