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Stricter Sobriety Standards for Calif. Health Professionals

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Nurses, doctors, dentists and other health professionals in California who are in treatment for alcohol and other drug problems will now be subject to stricter oversight and could be immediately removed from practice should they relapse, the Los Angeles Times reported Nov. 20.

Health workers will now be required to take more than 100 drug tests during their first year in treatment. One positive drug test result will be enough to have a health professional be temporarily suspended from practice. All restrictions to licenses will be posted online for public access. 

The new standards were created by the state legislature last year to address the way recovery programs for doctors were being handled. The Medical Board of California ended its diversion program in 2008 after several audits found that doctors were not be monitored properly and those who relapsed were not being fired.

The new standards will apply to the seven boards that oversee diversion programs, which allow licensed health professionals with addiction problems to undergo drug tests and group therapy to address their illness.

Licensed health professionals who are on probation for abusing substances will also be subject to the new rules.

Critics of the new standards include Ellen Brickman, president of the National Organization of Alternative Programs, which advocates for treatment rather than punishment for impaired healthcare professionals. “I'm listening to this and I'm cringing,” said Brickman. “I'm not optimistic that this is going to work the way they want it to. It won't keep people from abusing substances. It will keep them out of the system, where they'll be sicker before anybody can do anything about it.”  

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