09 July 2012
City sees a worrying rise in number of doctors getting addicted to drugs meant for sedating patients
The stress of their jobs and easy access to drugs is turning a number of anaesthetists in the city into addicts, putting their patients at peril.
Last month, a 35–year–old senior anaesthetist from Pune enrolled herself into Masina hospital’s drug rehab programme. But the doctors at the centre weren’t surprised. She was one of the many cases of doctors falling prey to substance abuse.
During her interview, she gave out a long list of anaesthetic drugs that she used to administer on her patients before surgeries, and added, "I have been administering all these drugs for past many years on myself."
During counselling, she revealed that it all started quite innocuously when she would occasionally take a mild dose of morphine for backaches. It would relax her immediately. Soon the drug, which is used to sedate trauma patients before surgeries, became a regular source of quick relief on a busy day, although still in fairly small doses.
Over a period of time, a few other sedatives, which she had easy access to, entered her list of ‘helpers’ and she was suddenly using them to cope with stress at work and home. By the time she realised that she was hooked, it was too late – she was taking heavy doses of a number of sedatives laced with opioid, which is a psychoactive chemical extract of opium poppy, one of the world’s oldest known hallucinating drugs.
For the past five years, she has been taking ketamine, methadrone, amphetamines, morphine, propofol, benzodiazepines – every drug that was available in a pharmacy. She started spending long hours at the hospital so that she could have access to the drugs whenever there was an urge.
It was when the abuse started affecting her work and family life – the very two things she started taking the drugs for – that she decided to quit. But it wasn’t easy.
She told the doctors at the rehab centre that how she tried to quit the habit a number of times, and how each time she tried, she suffered severe anxiety, and returned to drugs. "The doctor told us that she tried all methods to stop but nothing worked. She had become completely dependent on the drugs," Dr Yusuf Machiswala, head of psychiatrist department at the Masina Hospital’s rehab centre, told Mirror.
The 35–year–old spent 15 days in the programme, taking regular group and personal counselling as well as anti–craving drugs. While generally drug addicts are told at the end of the rehab that stay away from drugs, the doctors were worried that the 35–year–old anaesthetist might relapse because of the easy access to those drugs at her job.
"This was not such an uncommon case. We have already received three such cases of anaesthetists becoming drug addicts this year. Administrating anaesthesia to a patient is a very difficult job, a little mistake can prove fatal," Dr Machiswala said.
As per FDA rules, these sedatives can only be sold to anaesthetists, and even a hospital can get access to them only after a registered anaesthetist’s signature. But this also makes these people most vulnerable to drug abuse.
Dr. Harish Shetty, another psychiatrist who is currently treating a male 35–year–old anaesthetist from a reputed city hospital, said, "The patient told me that he was overconfident that he would not become a drug addict since he was a doctor. But now he is unable to come out of the addiction."
"Apart from access to these drugs, overconfidence is another reason why many doctors are getting addicted," Dr. Shetty said.
Dr Parul Tank, a psychiatrist at Fortis, who is treating two male anaesthetists from city, said, "Initially these doctors start with pain killer tablets like Benzodiazepines or morphine, but soon they start taking high dose injections of propofol and morphine."
Dr Tank added that while these drugs have a calming effect and can help people get sleep, an abuse or overdose can lead to severe cardiac–respiratory failure, causing death, like in case of Michael Jackson.
Rehab centres are seeing a sharp rise in number of anaestetists addicted to morphine