About 20 percent of doctors abuse drugs or alcohol, with more than a third of them injecting their narcotics and many others turning to cocaine, researchers reported last week.
Alcoholism remains the medical profession's primary source of chemical dependency, affecting more than two thirds of the doctors referred to an impaired-physician program in Georgia since 1975, said Dr. Karl Gallegos of the state's medical association. But Gallegos emphasized the findings do not represent a new crisis in medicine, only an old problem that still needs to be addressed.
"Addiction is a big problem in this country in general," he said. "And doctors are not exempted from the stresses and strains and problems that lead to substance abuse. In fact, in many cases, it's worse."
Other reports in a special issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found an 18 percent alcoholism rate among medical students, a lack of alcohol and drug programs for female physicians and limited medical education devoted to the problem.
Abuse of alcohol and drugs among physicians is at least as high as among the general population -- 19 percent -- and is probably higher, Gallegos said.
"Even if it's the same as everybody else, it's a big number," he said. "It means if you go to a doctor, you have one chance in five of getting one who is impaired. That's not very comforting."