Should We Drug Test Doctors?

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As an attorney who has dedicated his career to representing victims of medical malpractice and advocating for patient rights, I’m always on the look out for new legislation designed to make healthcare safer and protect those affected when negligence occurs. That’s why I am interested in an important new initiative in California called the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act that will be appearing on the November election ballot.

Among the proposed changes, the measure seeks to add safeguards to prevent doctors from over-prescribing medication, creates the first requirement in the United States that doctors and all healthcare providers submit to random drug and alcohol testing, and raises the state’s outdated $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages in medical negligence lawsuits to account for inflation.

In my opinion, a measure like this, particularly with regard to drug testing, is long overdue.

Workers in almost every other safety-sensitive occupation—police officers, firefighters, airline pilots, ship captains, transit operators, even flight attendants—are already required by federal law to have random drug screenings due to the grave responsibility their jobs entail. If we are smart enough to establish such precautions to ensure safety in other industries, why do we fail to do so with the medical profession?

We already know medical professionals are no less inclined than others to abuse drugs or alcohol. Recent government studies indicate at least 100,000 doctors—or about one in 10 currently working—is addicted to drugs or alcohol.

In California, the medical board estimates that 18% of doctors will have a substance abuse problem at some point during their careers, and a review of physician disciplinary records found that one in six actions involved substance abuse, including self-use or overprescribing. It would be foolish not to think there are similar rates across the country.

And while reducing the frequency of medical malpractice across the country is no easy task, if something as simple as drug screening can help hold healthcare professionals more accountable and save even just one of the 200,000 lives that will be lost as a result of medical negligence this year, I say it’s well worth it.

It’s something that should be seriously considered in Annapolis.