Doctors drug-addiction problem in South Africa

August 19, 2017

Details of how doctor and nurses in South Africa are being taken in for treatment of drug overdoses highlight a growing problem the country faces in fight against narcotics. Drugs abuse can affect the lives of those caught up in it in ways they might not expect. It can affect health, relationships, job and education. Recognizing there is a problem with drugs is an important first step in seeking help and treatment. Drug addiction can be treated, but it’s important that the person using drugs seeks help and support to figure next steps, rather than trying to deal with it on their own. The research published this week shows about 10% of South African nurses and doctors use an illicit drug and about 3% use a pharmaceutical drug for a non medical purpose every year. More than 30% of South Africans over 16 years have used an illicit drug in their lifetime, and illicit drugs are used by more than a half of people in their 20s and 30s each year. South Africans from all walks of life take illicit drugs, and the type of drug they use can depend on their socioeconomic status including things like their cultural background, where they live and what their income is.Doctors, just like the rest of the South African population, make personal choices about drug use. Some choose to use legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol, others take illicit substances like cannabis and amphetamines. Doctors also have access to controlled drugs, which creates the potential for misuse of prescribed medicines.The research points out that the extent of drug misuse among South African nurses and doctors is difficult to assess accurately, and estimates vary widely. But compared with the general community, doctors have relatively high rates of mental illness, substance abuse, burnout and suicide. This increases vulnerability due to a range of factors, including high-stress jobs, personality traits, characteristics of the medical culture and time pressures.Regular or continued use of a drug can lead to a drug addiction. Addiction is a physical or psychological need to use a substance, often caused by regular continued use.

The likelihood of addiction depends on factors related to the type of drug and the individual person. This means chances of impairment are extremely high due to alcohol and other drugs, mental illness, physical illness such as cognitive impairment due to a brain tumour, psychological and physical factors such as emotional stressors, lack of sleep and pain. The fact that 1 in every 10 South African doctor is a drug addict, patient safety systems recognize that health-care professionals are fallible human beings who make errors. The goal is to reduce the risk of adverse outcomes through systems which detect and correct human errors. One of the authors of the report however notes that quality health systems in South Africa have processes to ensure staff are appropriately qualified and communicate effectively with the patient and between members of the healthcare team which allows staff to detect and correct potential risks, to monitor outcomes and identify potential problems. Some blame the afflictions of drug addicted South African doctors on stressors that people with other jobs don’t have to face which include extensive educational demands, long work days and weeks, lack of understanding or support, and caring for patients. Also, South African doctors are seeing more patients in less time and working longer hours to keep up with all of the paperwork. It doesn’t help the issue when they are being flooded with narcotic samples from pharmaceutical reps pushing them to prescribe their product.The bigger problem, some say, is that once a physician is experiencing problems with drugs or alcohol, they have limited ways to turn. They either think they can fix themselves, or feel that the risk outweighs the reward when it comes to reaching out for help. There are many different options for preventing patient harm from drug addicted doctors that should be considered according to the research which includes better auditing of drugs, different medication storage systems as well as education and support programs that encourage doctors to seek help.Alcohol is the drug that causes the most impairment among South African doctors and nurses so there’s a greater rationale to support its testing. It would also be the most easily implemented since breathalysers are commonly used and provide immediate results. Strangely, this is the drug that appears to be immune to the calls for drug testing in South Africa.The types of South African doctor that are more susceptible to drug addiction include emergency rooms physicians, anesthesiologists, and psychiatrists. These are the type of doctors who deal the most with narcotics on a daily basis.

Contador Harrison