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Medical professionals and drug addiction, part 1: nightmare case

Drugs tests of professional athletes have become commonplace in many sports.

Such tests have come to be seen as integral to maintaining the integrity of the game - and in identifying individuals who may need help in dealing with an addiction problem.

Why, then, aren't drug tests used for doctors and other medical professionals? 

In this two-part post, we will explore this question.

Last week, the New York Times published an opinion piece on drug addiction among medical professionals. The piece was written by two people who work for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

One author is the inspector general for HHS. The other is a special agent for the department.

Medication errors that harm patients are of course bad enough. But the two authors began their piece with a particular horror story about a drug-addicted medical technician. 

The technician stole a painkiller (fetanyl) that was supposed to be used in the catherization of cardiac patients. After using the syringe to make an injection into his arm, he refilled the same syringe with saline - and put it back where it could be used again on patients.

To make matters worse, the technician was also someone who had hepatitis C.

This nightmarish syringe-contamination scenario is not some urban myth. It is a real case. The technician was finally caught and arrested after contaminating numerous people in eight states with hepatitis C. Two of these people died.

The case suggests that hospitals need to take better steps to make sure patients are not harmed by drug tampering done by medical professionals with addiction problems.

In part two of this post, we will discuss the role that drug tests could play in preventing such tampering and promoting patient safety.

Source: The New York Times, "Why Aren't Doctors Drug Tested?" Daniel R. Levinson and Erika T. Broadhurst, March 12, 2014

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