UF investigators examine lifetime substance use among physicians with suspected impairment

Dr. Linda Cottler, chair Epidemiology, PHHP and COMUniversity of Florida researchers have found that physicians undergoing supervision in a Physician’s Health Program had significantly higher odds of abuse/dependence disorders for alcohol, opiates and sedatives compared to a matched sample of the general population who had sought treatment for substance use, despite the fact that overall use of the substances was the same among the two groups.

Additionally, while cannabis and cocaine use was lower among physicians, abuse/dependence was reported at higher rates. Tobacco use was similar between the two groups, but dependence rates were lower among physicians.

The researchers, led by Dr. Linda Cottler, chair of the department of epidemiology at the UF colleges of Public Health and Health Professions and Medicine, and the PHHP associate dean for research and planning, report their findings in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. Dr. Mark Gold, the Donald R. Dizney Eminent Scholar and chair of the department of psychiatry at the UF College of Medicine, served as a study co-leader.

The UF study is the first to compare referred physicians to participants from the general population matched on specific characteristics.

For the study, 99 physicians who had been referred to a Physician’s Health Program because of suspected impairment completed the Computerized Diagnostic Interview Schedule Version IV. A comparison group of individuals who had sought treatment for substance use problems, derived from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, were matched for age, gender and education.

In a comparison of psychiatric disorders, physicians had significantly lower rates of major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobia than the general population group. There were no differences for agoraphobia, antisocial personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, hypomanic disorder, mania, pathological gambling or social phobia.

More research is needed to understand patterns of use, abuse/dependence and psychiatric conditions among physicians, the researchers say.