One of the least discusses problems in the medical field is substance abuse by practicing doctors. A recent estimate puts as much as 15 percent of physicians nationwide will have a substance abuse problem during their careers and an estimated 7,500 to 8,000 practicing doctors are probably in confidential treatment.
The accounts of malpractice by addicted doctors are shocking. The rate of addiction reflects the rate in society as a whole, though it remains surprising among professional who deal with addiction and its ravages in their positions. It may be worse in the bar. Studies have indicated that as much as 25 percent of lawyers suffer from alcoholism or some form of addiction. I have not personally seen such a high insistence of abuse among lawyers but there is no question that it is a serious problem. To the credit of the bar, we are now much more open and active in dealing with these issues. However, we could do more on the law school level and probably the medical school level.
Of course an addicted doctor can cause more immediate and lasting harm as some of these tragic stories indicate. One news organization found over 30 patients who may have been maltreated by an addicted doctor.
For years, Dr. Brian West battled an alcohol problem. Several patients he treated in the same time frame ended up injured. It wasn’t until our investigation that the California State Medical Board launched its own.
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When we first met Becky Anderson, we quickly learned it’s her infectious laugh, and family, keeping her going.
She went to Dr. West for a breast reconstructive surgery in 1999, and says her flesh eating infection kept her from getting the cancer treatment she needed. The cancer spread, and now she’s stage 4. She had more than a dozen surgeries that left her disfigured.
“This is what I have now. My intestines covered by a skin graft,” said Anderson.
In Anderson’s final operation, Dr. West removed muscle from her leg. Something, she says, she told him not to do.
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Back in the fall of 2005 Ken Mickulecky told me his late wife Sharon battled a year long infection in 2000.
“She was extremely special to me,” said Mickulecky
It also forced her to go without cancer treatment. Her cancer also spread, and he couldn’t believe how Dr. West treated her.
“He stuck his finger without a glove in my wife’s wound. When he came into examine her, she said he smelled like he’s got alcohol on his breath. I said ‘doctors wouldn’t do that’,” said Mickulecky
Tina Minasian underwent a 7 1/2 hour long procedure in the fall of 2002. Instead of being kept overnight for observation, Dr. West sent her home. She became infected and says she ended up disfigured.
“I look like a monster, this scarring is awful,” said Minasian.
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