Random Drug and Alcohol Testing for Doctors?

If passed, one of the things a proposed ballot measure will ask California voters to decide is whether doctors should be subjected to mandatory and random drug and alcohol testing.  The California Medical Association has called the initiative “ridiculous” and an “ill-fated publicity stunt.” But is substance abuse by physicians putting our safety at risk?

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Doctors could face mandatory drug and alcohol testing in the future.

According to a poll of California voters, the vast majority (85 percent) support their doctors being tested. And they’re not the only ones who believe this is a necessary step. In fact, many doctors themselves agree with the proposal, with an article published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) calling for all doctors to undergo confidential and mandatory drug testing. The article’s authors said that, if mandatory drug and alcohol testing is instated, “patients might be better protected from preventable harm (and) physicians and employers may experience reduced absenteeism, unintentional adverse events, injuries, and turnover, and early identification of a debilitating problem.”

So, there’s clear support for this measure, but is it overly cautious? Not according to a 2008 study in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, which found that, while illicit drug use is much less common among physicians than the general public, prescription drug abuse is five times more common among doctors. Drug abuse rates were found to vary by specialty, but were highest among those specialties with the highest stress and easiest access to these drugs.

If the California measure makes it to the ballot and is passed by voters, it could serve as a valuable test case, providing insight into the true prevalence of substance abuse among doctors, the efficacy of testing in curbing the problem and, over time, the effect that doctor impairment has on patient outcomes.

Would you vote for doctors to face mandatory drug and alcohol testing? Tell us why or why not below.

Sources: sfgate.com, medcitynews.com, and psychcentral.com