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  1. Miss Match
    Special Investigation: Why ARE so many doctors addicted to drink or drugs?
    New research reveals that one in six doctors has been hooked on alcohol or drugs. How has this happened - and what are the implications?

    The patients were waiting dutifully. But their young female doctor seemed reluctant to attend to their ailments at morning surgery. As the minutes ticked by, her door remained firmly shut.

    The reason for her absence soon became apparent. When staff finally went to investigate, Emily Heinzman was found slumped unconscious over her desk at Oulton Medical Centre, near Leeds. The room reeked of alcohol; the dishevelled doctor was snoring loudly and oblivious to the world.

    Surveys of hospital trusts also found that a third of male junior doctors and almost one in five of their female peers have used cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and other hallucinogenic drugs

    Clearly, Heinzman had not been taking her medicine properly. For this bright, intelligent 31-year-old usually tried to ensure she wouldn't suffer any ill-effects from the previous night's drinking - by taking a cocktail of drugs.

    Using all the pharmaceutical skills she had learned during an expensive university education, Heinzman would mix herself 'magic elixirs' to deal with the raging headaches and trembling hands that always followed when she had too much to drink - an occurrence which, as the years went by, had become a nightly event.

    At her upmarket docklands apartment in Leeds, she kept thousands of tablets in dozens of bottles. There was codeine, temazepam, diazepam and co-codamol - all highly addictive substances that are often used as a temporary treatment for drug addicts.

    And there was another problem: the drugs had been stolen. Heinzman had obtained them by writing fake prescriptions for non-existent patients.

    Although she claimed she drank and took drugs to ease the pain of a break-up, Heinzman also liked getting high - and she was in the perfect position to exploit a never- ending supply of pharmaceuticals.

    But prescription drugs weren't her only addictions. She was also a heavy cocaine user. And she was handing out stolen drugs to her friends and holding late-night parties at her flat in Leeds,where drink and narcotics flowed.

    Indeed, when the law finally caught up with her, cocaine - along with countless other substances - was found to be coursing through her veins.

    Finally arrested and brought to court last year, it transpired that she'd been living this secret lifestyle for several years, treating patients at the same time as she was bingeing on drugs and alcohol.

    Heinzman was given an eight-month jail term - suspended for 18 months - and ordered to carry out 100 hours' Community Service after she admitted 16 charges of fraud relating to her fake prescriptions. Not surprisingly, she also feared losing her job.

    But this month, three years after her drug-taking spiralled out of control, Heinzman was cleared to resume her medical career after serving a 12-month suspension imposed by the General Medical Council hearing into her potentially life-threatening behaviour.

    While medical staff are dealing with the growing carnage caused by drunks in chaotic Accident and Emergency wards, these same professionals are themselves increasingly intoxicated

    Before she was cleared to return to work - on condition she remained 'clean' - Peter Atherton, a lawyer for the General Medical Council, outlined the full scale of her abuse of the system, revealing that she had used a number of cunning schemes to ensure her supply of drugs.

    'She used many different names, and multiple addresses for the same patient,' he said. 'Prescriptions have been presented in many different large pharmacies, where staff were less likely to remember her. The efforts and preparation appear to have been a way of covering her tracks.'

    Emily Heinzman had obtained drugs by writing fake prescriptions for non-existent patients

    But, in truth, the only really surprising thing about this sordid tale of abuse is how commonplace it has become in the medical profession.

    According to shocking new figures, up to one in six doctors will have been addicted to drink or drugs - or both - at some stage in their medical career, raising the horrifying prospect that these highly-paid carers may have your life in their trembling hands.

    And that's not all. Surveys of hospital trusts also found that a third of male junior doctors and almost one in five of their female peers have used cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and other hallucinogenic drugs.

    'The problems will become more acute in future, as drug and alcohol dependency is becoming more common in the population as a whole,' say the authors of Invisible Patients, a government-funded study into the scale of the crisis.

    'It may be easy to spot a health professional who is obviously under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but persistent and long-term substance misuse can be harder to pick up and the consequences for quality and safety of care harder to predict.

    'Working while under the influence of drugs or alcohol increases the chances that healthcare workers will make mistakes and communicate poorly with colleagues and patients,' say the authors, revealing that more than 15,000 British doctors suffer from drink and drug addictions.

    In other words, while medical staff are dealing with the growing carnage caused by drunks in chaotic Accident and Emergency wards, these same professionals are themselves increasingly intoxicated.

    That was certainly the case for Dr Michael Wilks, a general practitioner who was downing a bottle of whisky a day between examining patients.

    'I was in a bit of a mess after several years of denial about the scale of the problem,' he told me. 'I thought I could handle it because I was a doctor. I don't think I was a good doctor, but I don't think I was a dangerous doctor.

    'Doctors are taught to be decisive and they are treated with respect,. So to ask for help, you have to climb down off your pedestal and admit you have a problem'

    'I was certainly deeply unhappy. I finally realised I couldn't go on drinking, but I also knew that I couldn't stop. I approached a patient I'd helped with an alcohol problem 15 years earlier and asked him for help. He told me what he'd done to get sober and for the first time in my life I listened.'

    Now sober for 20 years and deputy chairman of the Sick Doctors Trust, a charity established to help medics addicted to booze and drugs, Dr Wilks says the medical profession is in deep denial about the scale of its alcohol problem.

    'Doctors are taught to be decisive and they are treated with respect,' he says. 'So to ask for help, you have to climb down off your pedestal and admit you have a problem. Doctors don't want to reach out for that help - because they don't understand that a real alcoholic cannot help themselves.'

    Such is the stigma among alcoholic doctors that few are willing to be named. But many interviewed by the Mail, on conditions of anonymity, revealed harrowing details of how their drink-sodden lives as medical students did not stop when they became full-time professional medics.

    Incredibly, doctors told me how they hook themselves up to saline drips before going to bed to combat the effects of alcohol, and how they and their friends self-prescribe drugs to ease their symptoms. One even said his recollections of carrying out medical procedures after drinking were 'vague'.

    The most striking example of this growing scourge emerged last year when it was revealed that one doctor drank three bottles of vodka a day, and was often so drunk on duty that he didn't know his own name, let alone how to carry out correct medical procedures.
    Some professionals in the medical industry cope with stress by finding solace at the bottom of a glass

    Dr Ramasankerpersad Jairam, who worked at Coventry's Walsgrave Hospital, left his hospital accommodation in such a squalid state that the bedding and curtains had to be burned and the carpets steam cleaned.

    For more than a year, other staff covered up his drink problem, with hospital security helping him to bed most nights. He was even seen propped up against a hospital wall, clearly drunk.

    Concerned colleagues took a blood sample from Dr Jairam when he fell unconscious. Fearing he may die of acute alcohol poisoning, it transpired he was almost five times over the drink- drive limit when dealing with patients.

    Disturbingly, however, a General Medical Council disciplinary inquiry heard from fellow medical specialists that there was no evidence that his drinking had caused 'any direct harm' to patients.

    There are no country-wide rules preventing doctors from drinking. Nor is there a policy of random blood tests for drink and drugs

    In fact, as well as the obvious risk posed to patients, this superior attitude to drink and drug abuse is also killing doctors. Studies have shown they are three times more likely to die as a result of alcoholrelated cirrhosis of the liver.

    But many are in denial, believing the normal rules don't apply to them. Indeed, surveys have shown that even school pupils know more about safe drinking levels than medical students.

    This is a problem for doctors - but it also has profound implications for patients. One doctor, who asked to remain anonymous, revealed that he drank himself senseless at least four nights a week - with what he called 'definite health implications' for himself and his patients when he was on duty.

    Describing the medical profession as 'hypocritical' in its attitudes to alcohol, the doctor added: 'This dependence on alcohol for social interaction and relaxation should be worrying to all medical students and perhaps we should strive to live by example.'

    Yet, astonishingly, there are no country-wide rules preventing doctors from drinking. Nor is there a policy of random blood tests for drink and drugs - something that many other professions, including bus and train drivers, must submit to.

    Indeed, there are huge disparities between the policies of individual NHS trusts - some doctors are even allowed to drink while on call.

    Yet some doctors insist the scale of the problem is exaggerated.

    Prizzi Zarsadias, a trainee doctor and editor of the British Medical Journal's magazine for students, said: 'I've heard of people using saline drips to rehydrate themselves while they sleep off the drink - but as far as I'm concerned, it's an urban myth.'

    She also dismissed suggestions that, as doctors, she and her colleagues believe they are impervious to the problems faced by 'ordinary' people.

    'It's got nothing to do with feeling superior,' she said. 'My view is that it's down to the long hours that doctors have to put in - the sheer volume of work. They just use their free time to the max.

    'The types of people who become doctors are often extrovert and when they celebrate, they really go for it. We know what's on the line if we fail - there' s a lot of stress and that makes certain people drink more as a release.'

    Yet many older doctors scoff at the 'stress' argument, pointing out that doctors' hours have never been shorter and the rewards greater.

    But as alcohol claims 40,000 lives a year in the UK, doctors are falling prey to Britain's binge- drinking culture.

    Hannah Barton, a first-year medical student at Barts and The London School of Medicine, blames student unions offering cut-price drinks and tequila shots for £1 a pop.

    'I remember being told when I began my degree that gone were the days when I could take the chance of getting on a bus or train without paying; these were the sorts of seemingly innocuous transgressions that would damage my reputation and possibly my future career.

    'But excessive drinking is still promoted. We are all aware of the health risks and downsides of excessive drinking - not least the morning after - but for many of us, it is part of our student social life.

    'Undoubtedly, alcohol will continue to be one of the most important public health problems of our time. But that won't stop many people, including me, from going down the pub tonight.'

    But with so many doctors drinking themselves silly, while being charged with advising others against alcohol abuse, it seems that in alcohol-soaked Britain, it's now very much a case of the blind leading the blind.

    Last updated at 1:53 AM on 13th May 201



  1. mickey_bee
    Firstly, to those outside of the UK, take EVERYTHING in this article with a tablespoon full of salt............The Daily Mail is a tabloid trash paper, which in recent years especially has tried to turn it's image around, as an intelligent broadsheet. It would be far more at home with a pair of plastic tits on page 3, ala the other tabloids.

    As for the issue itself, swim's dad was an alcoholic and a doctor, and later on prescribed himself literally carrier-bags full of prescription drugs-(back when he could). Swim would definetly say that the spark to his very frequent and nasty bouts of binge drinking would be bad days/very stressful days at work, but the key to the problem was simply chronic depression along with suspected mild-schizophrenia. Things became alot better when he got onto the pills rather than the booze though!!!

    Swim thinks this article is slightly unfair. He has a friend, a recent graduate who is currently doing her required 2year(he thinks) working on call at a hospital, living in dorms in the hospital. She's lucky if she get's 3 hours sleep a night, and extremely lucky if this is actually in her dorm........most of her colleagues going through the same training simply try and sleep on chairs as they know by the time they get to their dorm, they'll have been buzzed numerously.
    The stress for younger doctors, especially these days, (despite what this article says), and the massive increase in worktime due to general bureaucracy and paperwork is ridiculous, and a big reason why so many can't handle it.

    Even after this very intense piece of hospital training, the sheer competition for jobs in most fields is unbelieveable. Swim's friend recently applied for a standard GP role at an average practice, and although applying only around 24 hours after publication of the advert, was told on the phone, 'Sorry, but we've had nearly a thousand applications for the two available posts already, we're full!'

    Being a doctor IS an extremely stressful job, and in swim's eyes, when one forgets about the individual cases of depression etc, this fact contributes hugely to the desire to relax-or even escape- after work's finally ended.

    As for the article-sensationalist. As for doctors being more stressed therefore drinking more-it's to be expected.

    Doctors are indeed spending far less time than they used to, and should, on the wards, actively, and practically practicing their profession, however, aswell as doing that, they've got to fill out reams of paperwork on each and every case, extending their hours dramatically.

    EDIT: The NHS is f**king brilliant, but the needless stress that's been put on doctors, and the level of care this provides to the patients is nothing but the fault of un thought-out policies by the government. These days on wards you just don't see the number of staff as 20, even 10 years ago, and nor are they doing practical things, especially nurses-swim's friend was in hospital with a badly broken leg for 2 weeks last year after being hit by a car. The surgery he received and initial treatment was excellent, but in that whole 2 weeks his bedsheets weren't changed once, nor was he given a singe bed bath!!!!-There simply wasn't anyone available to do these menial but very necessary tasks.
  2. dyingtomorrow
    This might sound strange, but I find it encouraging / hopeful that so many doctors would have substance abuse problems. I hope it is roughly the same in the U.S.


    Because people who have been through substance abuse know what it is actually like to have a terrible problem, and I believe it makes them more compassionate people. More likely to take someone's pain seriously, more likely not to judge or criticise and give less effectual treatment. They can understand what it is like to have every day be a struggle, whether it be with mental or physical pain. Contrast them with a doctor who has never experienced what it is like to have a serious malady, how hard it can be to get through every day, and I wager that on average the latter is less compassionate, less personal, and far more likely to assume someone is just "being a baby" than to take their complaints seriously.

    From what I've personally seen and read about online, many pain patients report going through a number of doctors who don't take them seriously and leave them in life-destroying pain through undermedication. Eventually the patient stumbles on a compassionate doctor who takes their every word seriously, and they finally get the medication and quality of life they deserve. I believe often times this savior doctor is someone who has experienced physical or mental pain themselves and understands how horrible it is. Again, unless they are unusually empathetic by nature, some over-achiever student-med student-doctor who has had an easy life and never experienced mental or bodily suffering is just not going to be as good of a doctor 9 times out of 10.

    So I say, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, for the individual doctor, I can only hope they get the help they need without it destroying their career, so they can become the compassionate doctor that we need so badly.
  3. bcubed
    Q: "Why ARE so many doctors addicted to drink or drugs?"

    A:"I thought I could handle it because I was a doctor."

    Arrogance+Ability to prescribe=High incidence of addiction.
  4. John Doe
    SWIM actually knows a number of doctors and to be honest while they do enjoy studying pharmacopeia for it's psychoactive properties they all do seem to handle it very well.

    One thing SWIM has learned from seeing trained medical professionals take drugs both recreational and otherwise is that if these people have studied the human body and all of it's pros and cons for so many years and can still make the choice to at least experiment with recreational drugs is that the 'drugs are bad mmkay' side has lost one more rung on it's ladder :p

    As a previous commenter said though, Daily Mail = Firelighter. We call them rags!
  5. Miss Match
    Thanks for all the comments regarding this article.. Some really fantastic points!

    Just wanted to say that this article in no way reflects Nanas personal opinion on the subject at all. She is simply the messenger.
    Also, tabloid or not, most "News" is not reported in an objective way at all, often reflecting the reporters or editors own views on whats right and wrong or good and bad. This doesn't mean the story lacks interesting points. Nana just tends to ignore words like "shocking" or "astonishingly". Words that colour the tone somewhat..

    Nana has a few doctor or pharmacists friends. Two of which are very close friends and both have done or do recreational drugs. They are responsible with their use, so it won't interfere with their profession. And yes, it probably does make them alot more compassionate and knowledgable to their patients with drug problems.
    One of them once came with Nana to a party that was hosted by another friend of Nans that was a DJ and a drug dealer. (ecstasy, coke, speed, weed) ...The two of them hit it off immediately and dated for well over a year. Things turned sour though when he started asking if she could "get a bit of this or that" "write a fake script" etc... It went on and on ...She could of done it, but she saw where it was going and had to make a choice, she gave him a choice too, but he choose drugs.

    Doctors have a choice of what when and how much they take like everyone else. It being a stressful job is irreverent. So is being a lawyer or running your own business. The difference is that doctors have access to drugs that most don't and this can esculate quickly, like the woman in the story.
    They are also responsible for their patients and have peoples lives in their hands.
    Nanas best friends mum went from being "a little tired" to dead in 3 months because her doctor put her on hormone replacement which sped up the cancer that he should of bloody tested for. Mistakes happen even for tea-totaling anti-drug doctors, they are human too, but a doctor who is hungover, drug fucked is far more likely to make a mistake.

    If SWIY went to the A&E with say, a dislocated finger and the Doctor was the same guy SWIY saw at a club tweaking off his face and drinking scotch 8 hours ago, would SWIY really be comfortable letting him treat SWIY?

    Nana might have a joint to relax before seeing the Gyno, but would prefer if her Gyno didn't need a joint before seeing her. ;)

  6. Sven99
    This swimmer is unconvinced - he's seen studies that show a direct correlation between being in a position of power and being a hypocrite, and so wouldn't expect doctors to empathise with their patients in those circumstances.

    I read the article and instantly knew it was from the Daily Mail. not because of its sensationalist content (though that was a clue) but because their quality of writing is appalling. The article meanders, repeats itself several times and goes on for far longer than it needs to. Do the Daily Fail journos even bother to proof-read and edit what they've written? Or does the Daily Wail just have an epic shortage of material, and so feel the need to stretch it as far as it will go?
  7. dyingtomorrow
    I agree that it won't "cure" hypocrisy, but I think if you looked at the number of people that started out proud and uncaring in their youth, who were then humbled by a traumatic experience like physical/mental pain or addiction, more often then not you'd find they've become far more empathetic. From what SWIM has seen, and many seem to report, older doctors are a lot more likely to help people and not undermedicate than younger ones, I think at least some of it has to do with the fact that they've seen or experienced enough pain in their life to attain a healthy degree of compassion.
  8. KingMe
    There could be another debate wether older doctors are indeed more compassionate or not, as younger doctors feel everyday pressures more than the more experienced ones who know how to handle things better (and in your example, they could underprescribe as to avoid suspicion th they might be supplying someone for example, or wasting resources).

    In the medical communities swim has known, the general attitude towards alcohol has been the one mentioned (i can handle it because i am a doctor) but there has always been a very negative view of the use of drugs (even suspicion is enough to get some doctors trouble and even intermediate staff, like nurses). Swim is very curious as to why this is the case, as the dichotomy of drugs/alcohol is never that easy, and doctors should know better.

    Swim also suspects some of the young doctors, reside use/used some form of amphetamines or similar drugs to enhance their learning/work abilities and might not even consider this to be a for of drug use.
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