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Article Reports Medical Residents Can be Vulnerable to Substance Abuse Disorder

Update Date: Dec 03, 2013 04:14 PM EST

Substance use disorder (SUD) can affect any one regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, education level and many other factors. Even though some factors, such as knowledge and awareness, can deter people from abusing substances, it does not mean that they will. In a new article, researchers set out to study SUD in medical residents. Since medical professionals are educated about the risks involved with taking non-prescribed drugs and other substances, they would arguably be considered very low-risk of SUD. However, the researchers found the SUD affects medical residents as well. The research team headed by David O Warner, MD from Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN focused on anesthesiologists in training because this group of medical professionals have been found to have the highest risk of SUD.

For this article, the researchers examined the incidence rate and the outcome of SUD in medical residents who were training to become anesthesiologists from July 1, 1975 through to July 1, 2009. The follow-up was done at the end of the training period and the researchers followed the participants through to December 31, 2010 to record relapse rates. There were a total of 44,612 residents all within the U.S.

The researchers found that 384 residents, which is 0.86 percent, had SUD. The incidence rate of SUD increased steadily from 1996 to 2002 and had a spike in 2003. During the training, 28 of the residents had died due to SUD-related issues. The researchers reported that the most common substance that the residents abused was intravenous opioids, which are relatively easily accessible for anesthesiologists. These drugs were followed by alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, anesthetics or hypnotics and lastly, oral opioids. When the team examined the data gathered during the follow-up and relapse periods, they found that 43 percent of SUD survivors had at least one relapse by 30 years after their first episode of SUD.

"To our knowledge, this report provides the first comprehensive description of the epidemiology and outcomes of SUD for any in-training physician specialty group, showing that the incidence of SUD has increased over the study period and that relapse rates are not improving," the authors wrote. "Despite the considerable attention paid to this issue, there is no evidence that the incidence and outcomes of SUD among these physicians are improving over time."

The article was published in JAMA.

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