Stress of work led to morphine addiction
A GP who became addicted to morphine while coping with a huge workload has urged fellow doctors to admit their own frailty and seek help if they need it.
Dr Liam Farrell, a UCD-educated doctor from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, has since recovered from his addiction and is a leading columnist for medical publications.
He recalls that he became addicted when he was on duty as a GP, working as a postgraduate tutor in palliative care and writing as a columnist for four different journals.
"GPs are put in positions of immense responsibility and trust and we are under pressure daily to live up to that trust. Sometimes it can be very difficult," he said.
Dr Farrell was speaking at the first major meeting of the National Association of General Practitioners, which has been re-formed and hopes to get a negotiating licence to pursue problems faced by family doctors.
Dr Farrell first started using morphine in 1998 and relapsed in 2007.
His regulatory body, the General Medical Council, regarded his addiction as a health issue and he was reviewed every six months.
He was also no longer allowed to prescribe strong opiates, which he welcomed because it kept him at a distance from the drug.
He said his relapse in 2007 was his own fault and he was suspended from practising for three months.
He remains eligible to work as a doctor but has left medicine and now concentrates on writing.
He thought at the time that he would be destroyed personally and professionally but he said that doctors who were addicts had a very high recovery rate.
He said he believed alcohol dependence was a much bigger problem than opiate misuse among doctors but that it was more difficult to diagnose and recognise.