May 11, 2014

"It is all around us all the time. High people mingling with us, working, passing, laughing extra hard at our jokes. We don't even know why."

Said Ira Glass, introducing the "I Was So High" episode of "This American Life."

ADDED: Read this segment of the transcript, interviewing Dr. Ethan Bryson, author of "Addicted Healers/5 Key Signs Your Healthcare Professional May Be Drug Impaired":
Sean Cole [a "This American Life" producer]  And right here on page xviii, it says, "Rates of illicit drug use by health care professionals within the past year ranged from 8% to 20%, depending on the type of personnel within the health care industry." And then, it says, "At any given time, roughly 3% to 5% of this population is using illicit drugs while they are caring for patients."

Ira Glass  3% to 5%, you mean of all health care professionals?

Sean Cole  All across the profession.

Ira Glass  Wow, which drugs?

Sean Cole  They all have their drug of choice. And we actually played this kind of word association game.

Sean Cole  Physicians?

Dr. Ethan Bryson  Pills, Oxycontin, oxycodone.

Sean Cole   Nurses.

Dr. Ethan Bryson  Intravenous opioid-based drugs.

Sean Cole  Psychiatrists.

Dr. Ethan Bryson  Benzodiazepines.

Sean Cole  Anesthesiologists.

Dr. Ethan Bryson  Fentanyl.

Sean Cole  You said that so fast!

Dr. Ethan Bryson  That is the biggest drug.

Sean Cole  I should point out here that Dr. Bryson is himself an anesthesiologist.

Sean Cole  Say it again, fentanyl?

Dr. Ethan Bryson  Fentanyl. It's a highly potent derivative of morphine. 


Michael K said...

Drug use is a major problem with physicians and nurses but the rate is around 3% I would estimate. I have seen some examples and they are dealt with quickly when recognized. Often the professional can be steered to rehabilitation but I know several doctors who lost their licenses and several who committed suicide.

Bob R said...

Weeel, I don't know how scientific my comments are, but druggies think everyone else is a druggy. And everyone - druggies or not - pull statistics out of their ass. They should seriously choose smoother numbers with a lot of 8's and 0's/

David said...

No shit Dick Tracy.

I can't imagine how they would come up with reliable percentages but any honest person in the medical game will tell you that drug use by docs and staff is a big problem.

Smilin' Jack said...

"It is all around us all the time. High people mingling with us, working, passing, laughing extra hard at our jokes. We don't even know why."

We're not laughing at your jokes, moron. We're laughing at you.

madAsHell said...

This is the un-cool kids thinking they discovered the secret to being kewl. This is how cocaine captures the foolish.

Jay Vogt said...

There is simply no reason for the weaponized versions of opium such as fentanyl to exist. Any pain relief requirement can be sated by the many less lethal opioid concoctions.

These substances ultimately exist for one purpose only: to allow drug possessors to control drug addicts. Maybe not now, but someday when that control is all that's left.

Again, there's a reason that they don't teach about the opium wars anymore.

Anonymous said...

I've been in the medical field 30 years, and I would say that the rate is well short of 10% among physicians. I can't think of any docs I know of currently that are abusing the meds mentioned in this article. The 3% offered above is about right, in my experience.

grackle said...

I recently had brain surgery. The surgeon, who was bald on top, managed to save my long hair – as requested by me, bless his heart. The long hair above it falls over the shaved incision area.

Here's my point. After surgery he was giving me post-op instructions and told me to have the stitches removed in 2 or 3 weeks by my primary care physician. Also to be sure and not forget the 2 staples.

Scroll forward in time to my PCP taking out the stitches. After he finished I asked to see the staples because I was curious to see what a staple from my skull looked like. But my doc, with a puzzled look, said there were NO staples to be found.

Did the surgeon forget to staple me? Did the staples drop into the hole in my head? Are they still there, just too embedded to be visible under the healing incision? Where the hell are my staples dammit! Was the surgeon stoned? Was my PCP stoned?

BTW, that first shampoo was a bitch. Three weeks of sweaty tangles took a good 45 mins. to untangle.

Lyle said...

I visited a dermatologist once. I had a case of shingles, in my late twenties. The dermatologist was out of it when he saw me. I think he had been drinking or maybe he was high. Regardless, he misdiagnosed what I had and proscribe the totally wrong drug. The drug he proscribe made me terribly sick. Lots of vomiting and what not. When I contacted him about all of it, he was like, "oh, I think it might be Shingles, you'll need a different drug".

richlb said...

Easy access. My wife is a nurse and she sees a lot of it among the other workers there. It's pretty easy to convince a doctor to write you a prescription "for a little something to take the edge off."

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...


Shingles, in your late 20s? That's decidedly odd. Though not impossible. (Kaiser Permanente has a shingles vaccine, but they won't use it if you're under 50.)

When looking at drug use in the medical profession, don't forget the pharmacists. They have better access than anyone else -- though, admittedly, also much stricter controls on them when caught.

jr565 said...

Grackle wrote:
Scroll forward in time to my PCP taking out the stitches. After he finished I asked to see the staples because I was curious to see what a staple from my skull looked like. But my doc, with a puzzled look, said there were NO staples to be found.

that reminds me of something that happened to me when I saw a doctor recently. I had to get an EMG test? While there, the doctor, who was an Asian woman, looked at my tongue and said I had a case of "The damp". I had never heard that before so after the appointment I googled The Damp and it turns out its a phrase from Chinese medicine.
So, for the followup I mentioned that she had said said The Damp last time I was there and was wondering if she could refer me to any Chinese medicine type doctors. And she looked at me like she had no idea what I was talking about and said she didn't know because she doesn't practice that type of medicine.
And now it seems like I'm asking her to recommend Chinese doctors because she's chinese or something.
SHE told me about The Damp. I had never heard of it prior to her putting it out there. And now I'm the dummy for asking about something she told me about.

Fernandinande said...

Although they say "Download not available", you can download it from:

wildswan said...

I wish when they did statistics they would separate out "very intermittent" from "using." The "very intermittent" statistics always bump up the numbers so the story is more interesting but then the story is also misleading. I'll bet that 3% of the doctors out there aren't using all the time but only some very, very low percentage plus others who do it once on a bad day. So the story should really be about how dangerous it is to ever do use drugs while on duty. Even though many health professionals get away with intermittent drug use how would you feel if you mishandles a situation and killed someone because you were "just this once" on drugs? It's like texting while driving - which is killing people every year. How would it feel to look at a text " just this once" and that was the moment when the road went crazy and you were the last to react and you killed someone?
It strange to see how this argument is used in some situations (texting) and not in others (drug abuse). Who decides that drug abuse is so cool that we aren't going to think about the people who get killed?

Lyle said...


Yeah, shingles can happen anytime after someone has had chickenpox apparently. It doesn't appear doctors knows a lot about the why and when it happens. My case of shingles was also not painful.

Totally a random thing with me.

The doctor could have just been really tired when he saw me the first time. I don't really know. He was not all with it though.