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The Ethics of Drug Testing Professionals

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The premise of Cinemax’s hit series The Knick, which is centred around Victorian London and the early medical practice, is based on the medical prowess of Dr John Thackery (Clive Owen) who happens to be a full-blown cocaine addict. Thackery, though an extremely talented but radical physician, presents a real hazard to his patients.

Many people often ask, should professionals be tested for drugs too? Of course, I believe they should.

Doctors and nurses should be tested randomly for substances as they are humans, and therefore susceptible to addiction too. The medical profession has an ethical responsibility to do a better job of checking drug abuse among its practitioners.

Why is it alright to test pilots, train conductors and bus drivers, but not doctors and nurses? After all, they also have human lives in their care. The fact that physicians have unlimited access to these drugs makes them even more at risk to drug abuse. Who’s to say they are not “getting high on their own supplies?” You have to assume some medical mistakes are as a result of drug or alcohol abuse.

Just like other professions, it is likely that only a small percentage of people have a drug or alcohol problem. But those few professionals expose their patients to danger.

One expert, Dr Arthur Caplan, PhD., notes that if you have been convicted of drunk driving up to four times, you have no business around a patient.

Alcohol, narcotics and sedative addiction is as common among physicians as the general population. In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2013, it was observed that the problem was more critical among anaesthesiologists. The more you are around drugs, with easy access to pain medications, the greater the risk, says Dr. Caplan.

Who Should Supervise the Testing?

Various doctors’ groups have insisted that the medical practice can regulate itself. Dr. Caplan believes the problem is denial, and there’s the fear of recording false-positives. Many doctors believe the problem requires therapy, treatment and professional monitoring, not drug testing. “Doctors have spent so much time being trained and qualified, they don’t want to entertain a topic that could be a potential career-ender.”

Not long ago, some doctors in California, US, voted to reject a measure that would have seen them submitting to random alcohol and drug tests. This measure, referred to as Proposition 46, was rejected by doctors, hospitals and medical insurance companies. At the moment, it is not under practice.

Professionals should blow the whistle on colleagues

In the absence of stringent testing procedures, physicians who suspect a colleague of using or being impaired by drugs, alcohol, or abusive sedatives should blow the whistle. This is what’s needed- an observant, peer-review colleague who will draw attention to the unprofessional staff when there is a suspected drug problem.

Unfortunately, data has shown that peers are not willing to give their colleagues up. Therein lies the ethical issue of the subject. However, some professionals do come forward when they feel the situation is severe.

The medical profession should instate strict drug testing routines and ensure their practitioners comply accordingly.

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