Doctors and dentists 'can become secret drug addicts'
Doctors, dentists and pharmacists may be secret drug addicts who are afraid to seek treatment, the head of a new confidential health service has warned.
Some health professionals abuse prescribed drugs such as tranquillisers and painkillers, said Dr Íde Delargy, who has lengthy experience of treating GPs with health issues.
"Sometimes it starts with medicating for something minor and then escalates into dependency. The difference for health professionals is that they have access to these drugs through work," she said.
"Like the general public, one in four practitioners may have mental health difficulties at some point in their lives.
"With alcohol or drug- related problems, the rates in the general population are around 10pc-15pc and we may find similar rates amongst doctors, dentists and pharmacists."
Dr Delargy was speaking at the launch of the new Practitioners Health Matters Programme which is urging doctors, dentists and pharmacists who are suffering mental health problems or are in the throes of addiction to seek help from the confidential service, which is mostly paid for by their regulatory bodies.
The hidden problems are leading to fears for patient safety as well as the health of the practitioner, who can end up losing their livelihood.
The evidence is that many doctors in particular who are suffering depression or are abusing drink or drugs are embarrassed to seek treatment.
By the time they are seen it can be at a late stage and they can have reached a crisis, says Dr Delargy.
Middle-aged practitioners and women who are junior doctors and facing extreme stress in their work are particularly vulnerable.
"The key to overcoming this reluctance is to ensure that they will receive a high standard of care in a non-judgemental atmosphere and with complete confidentiality assured. We want people affected by these issues to seek help early and to know they can come forward safely and in confidence," she said.
"We have a memorandum of understanding with each of the regulators so they recognise the work that we're doing and support it but they're not involved. This arm's length relationship is very important."
Practitioners who are working on their own may be at higher risk of not seeking treatment for a problem.
Full details of the programme are available online at www.practitionerhealth.ie.