October 23rd, 2014 | Sterling
Doctors On Drugs May Face Randomized Testing
Drug and alcohol abuse affects people from all walks of life, which is why many jobs in both the public and private sector require some form of drug testing. Firefighters, pilots, bus drivers, and police officers are among some of the workers who must participate in random drug testing programs. So why is it that doctors – a profession with access to a variety of narcotics and the authority to prescribe them – are exempt from mandatory drug testing?
Physicians are no less likely to suffer from substance abuse than the general public, but the difference is that they do not always use drugs for recreational or thrill-seeking purposes. In most cases, they develop addictions to prescription medications, such as painkillers or antidepressants in order to cope with stress or emotional pain.
Drug abuse among medical professionals has shown to be a real problem with real consequences. Earlier this year, a doctor working at the University of Michigan hospital overdosed on pain medication. He had injected himself with fentanyl, a highly addictive pain killer which he stole from the hospital. He survived and later admitted to investigators that he had taken the drug several other times that week. Only a few hours earlier in a similar case, a nurse was found dead in a locked bathroom at a nearby hospital. She was found with a syringe and medication used to sedate patients prior to surgery. In the nurse’s case, there was also evidence of repeated drug use.
California lawmakers are hoping to introduce legislation that would mandate randomized drug and alcohol testing for doctors. Proposition 46 bundles together two aspects relevant to the medical profession, the first and most publicized part being drug testing. Proposition 46 also seeks to increase the maximum financial award in medical negligence lawsuits. The proposed new ceiling for pain and suffering would be raised from $250,000 to $1.1 million. This has drawn criticism from the opposition, who claim that it’s a scheme by trial lawyers to exploit medical malpractice claims for more money, and that they are hiding behind the highly supported proposal of drug testing.
Regardless of the political motivation or the arguments for and against Proposition 46, there is one thing that both sides can agree upon – drug abuse does exist in the medical community and drug testing is solution that should be thoughtfully considered.
If the bill is passed, California will be the first state to mandate drug testing for doctors. Lawmakers and doctors across the country will be paying close attention to the outcome as this could have a rippling effect into other states.
Drug testing is not necessarily essential for all job positions, but physicians are trusted members of the community and are relied upon for accurate and sound medical advice and service. Additionally, their access to prescription medication can make them more vulnerable to substance abuse. For these reasons, a randomized drug testing program is extremely rational.
As with any position, employers need to carefully evaluate their screening practices and implement the relevant background checks and/or drug tests to best promote a safe environment for employees and customers. Further, periodic review of current screening practices is important to consider new technology or services that may offer improved information or processing to the overall screening procedure.
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