OTTUMWA — After decades of focusing on illegal drugs, there is a growing awareness of the risks of prescription drug abuse.
The issue is in the headlines in Iowa, where Dr. Daniel Baldi is on trial. Baldi is accused of over-prescribing painkillers, causing the deaths of nine patients. He is charged with involuntary manslaughter.
In Baldi's case, it's his patients who were receiving the drugs. But the doctors and medical staff can also find themselves gripped by addiction.
A recent report in USA Today estimated 100,000 doctors, nurses and other health care employees are addicted to prescription medications in any given year, potentially raising unnecessary risks for their patients.
But while the attention given to the issue is new, the problem itself is not.
“In the health care industry, I think diversion has always been an issue,” said Phil Noel, CEO of Ottumwa Regional Health Center, “so it’s not a new issue. I think hospitals across the country have always been concerned and aware that that exists.”
In Iowa, different boards handle discipline for different health care providers. The Iowa Board of Medicine’s 2013 records show nine doctors involved in disciplinary cases for substance or alcohol abuse. Not all of those cases began in 2013 and several were reinstatement actions for doctors who successfully completed treatment.
The Iowa Board of Nursing report covers Fiscal 2013 rather than the calendar year. It shows a total of 19 enforcement actions for substance abuse. That compares to 22 in Fiscal 2012, and 25 such cases in Fiscal 2011.
In Iowa, medical personnel have options to seek help. The Iowa Physician Health Program exists so doctors can seek assistance with anything from alcoholism to narcotic addiction.
The numbers in that program have stayed stable in recent years. There were 82 participants in 2010, 80 in 2011 and 79 in 2012. Numbers from last year have yet to be released.