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Majority of Doctors Return to Practice Within a Few Years of Addiction Treatment

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A new study finds a majority of doctors who are treated for addiction return to work within a few years of treatment. Surgeons have similar success rates compared with other types of physicians, Reuters reports.

The study also found surgeons were as likely as non-surgeons to relapse or to have their medical licenses revoked. The researchers said they had expected surgeons to have higher success rates for addiction treatment. Lead researcher Amanda Buhl said, “Being a safety-sensitive specialty, they receive greater scrutiny when returning to practice following chemical dependence treatment. We actually hypothesized that they would have more favorable outcomes following treatment.”

The study included 144 surgeons and 636 physicians who were not surgeons, who were treated for a substance use disorder through a physician health program. These programs require doctors to complete contracts, submit to random drug testing, and abstain from drugs and alcohol before they can return to practice. The most common reason for treatment was alcohol abuse.

The doctors were followed for five years after treatment. About one-fifth of both surgeons and non-surgeons had a positive drug or alcohol test after treatment. In addition, one-fifth were reported to state licensing boards because they had a relapse or were not compliant with their treatment program.

After five years, 60 to 65 percent of all physicians had completed their monitoring contracts. As many as 75 percent had their licenses restored and were once again practicing medicine, the researchers report in the Archives of Surgery.

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