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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

The United States is now sharply divided on many important questions, and physicians are part of the dialogue. We asked physicians for their opinions on 10 controversial social issues that US residents feel strongly about, including where they stand, their relative importance, and how each issue has affected their work lives and families.

According to the American Addiction Centers, 1.2 million people will die from opioid overdoses by the end of the decade, and approximately 10%-15% of physicians will develop a substance use disorder during their careers, a rate similar to or greater than that of the general population, reports the Stanford-Lancet Commission.

Over 2340 physicians in more than 29 specialties gave their thoughts on substance and opioid issues in the workplace.

(Note: Some totals in this presentation do not equal 100% due to rounding.)

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

No matter the age group, why do only about 3 in 10 physicians rank substance/opioid abuse their first or second top social issue?

"Physicians may be underestimating the seriousness of the issue. I do think that this is a big issue among both physicians and nonphysicians, as well," says Michael McGrath, MD, medical director of the Ohana Addiction Treatment Center Luxury Alcohol Rehab in Hawaii.

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

More male than female physicians think substance/opioid abuse is a leading social issue. Why? This could align with findings by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that men are more likely than are women to be substance-abusers.

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

Of note, physicians in the West North Central region of the country, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota were more likely to consider substance abuse a top social issue than were physicians in New England, comprising Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

One reason behind the differences in regions could include COVID-19 factors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a 13% uptick in the public's substance use as a way to cope with the stress and emotions of the pandemic.

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

Almost 4 in 10 physicians believe that the greatest harm from substance/opioid abuse is unnecessary death. Our World in Data, a nonprofit think tank on global issues, reports that illegal drug use is, directly and indirectly, responsible for 750,000 deaths per year, and opioids are responsible for the most overdose deaths.

Doctors chose a user's lost potential and health problems nearly as much as death. Oftentimes, people struggling with substance use disorders may experience many of these harms along with a societal stigma.

"Addiction is not only the disease that tells you that you don't have a disease, but on the level of awareness you do have, you know there is stigma, so you try to hide it," says McGrath. "You don't want to lose whatever support you have."

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

The majority of the physicians surveyed feel that substance/opioid abuse among physicians is a very significant or somewhat significant problem. About 15% of physicians and 13% of the general population have had a problem with substances, reports The American Journal of Psychiatry.

In that study, physicians cited easy access and self-treatment of burnout and physical pain among reasons for substance abuse.

"Healthcare workers have had to deal with quite a bit of stress over the last couple of years because of the pandemic. This may lead to an increase in the number of physicians who use substances to cope," says McGrath.

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

Over 4 in 10 physicians have seen an increase in the number of patients they treat with a substance use disorder during COVID-19, possibly because of contributing factors like social isolation and pandemic-related stress.

Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse found an increase in substance use and poor outcomes for those with substance use disorders during the pandemic, though they say further research is needed to fully understand the link.

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

Why do about half of physicians think substance abuse in their ranks worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic?

"Doctors are burned out and extremely busy, especially in the past 2 years. Ninety-nine percent of COVID patients are coming to us. People may not realize it, but COVID-19 is an inpatient disease. I've talked to three patients already this morning who have COVID," says Lucy McBride, MD, an internist in private practice in Washington, DC.

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

Less than one quarter of physicians report that substance/opioid abuse affects their families, which may be surprising because McGrath says that physicians' families may be affected by substance abuse disorders at the same rates that nonphysician families are affected. Perhaps physicians educate their families on opiates as a result of the opioid epidemic.

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

Similar to when Medscape surveyed physicians about other social issues, physicians more often raise money or give their time if they are inclined to be activists on preventing substance abuse.

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

Opioid Response Network, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has consultants in all 50 states and nine territories to provide free educational resources and training in the prevention, treatment, and recovery of opioids and stimulant use.

Coalition to Stop Opioid Overdose comprises a diverse range of mental health, substance use disorder, and healthcare professional organizations committed to reducing opioid overdose deaths. The organization provides advocacy, aiming to elevate the conversation around opioids, reduce stigma, affect policy change, and offer prevention and recovery support.

Hazelden Betty Ford Experience offers comprehensive addiction treatment programs designed specifically for healthcare professionals, including a specialized program for nurses. The program also offers help with issues surrounding professional licensure, employment, and medical reputation.

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

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Substance and Opioid Abuse Report 2022: Drugs and Alcohol Are Challenging Problems for Physicians and Their Patients

Jennifer Nelson | September 28, 2022 | Contributor Information

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Physicians' Views on Today's Divisive Social Issues Report 2022: Strong Emotions, Contrary Opinions

Physicians reveal their attitudes about 10 of today's hottest social issues, from racial disparities to gun control, and how those challenges affect their lives and practices.
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