What Happens When a New York Healthcare Provider Becomes a Substance Abuser?

This is where a doctor or a nurse or a dentist or some other person in the healthcare profession becomes addicted to something. I have seen cases where it’s addicted to narcotics, addicted to alcohol, addicted to Xanax, or addicted to, if you can believe it, cough syrup. If you put enough Codeine in the cough syrup, this can happen. You had better recognize this problem yourself and try to get into rehabilitation. If you do, you stand at least an even chance of not having your life really ruined if, in fact, OPMC or OPD comes and finds that you are a substance abuser and they make you surrender your license. If they do that, you are then off on a two to three year odyssey without being able to work in your field. You must prove to the government that you are off substance abuse and they can be fairly confident that you are not going to be harming your patients.

Sometimes the doctor is found to be drunk while treating patients. Normally, his partner sees this happening, informs the doctor’s wife, and they get the doctor to a rehab facility. He’s in the rehab facility for maybe 30 days or 60 days. If OPMC doesn’t know about this, the government doesn’t know about it, the doctor then gets out of the facility and goes back to work. He also, at the same time, signs on with an organization called CPH, the Committee on Physician’s Health. That’s an organization run by the New York State Medical Society that will help a physician deal with an addiction, get treated for it, and have random urine studies done about four or five times a month. If the doctor gets into treatment, gets out of treatment, gets with CPH, and continues to work and does not have a difficulty with his work, then he might be able to continue to practice even after OPMC does become aware of the problem.

What happens is there may be a year’s lapse of time before OPMC gets around to asking the doctor to come on in to have a conversation. I’ve had this happen myself where the doctors come in and the investigator has asked, “What seems to be the problem with your practice?” The doctor has answered, “I’m an alcoholic, I’ve always been an alcoholic, and I’m always going to be an alcoholic. I’ve been in treatment from such and such a day. I do my random urine studies. Here they are. Here’s the name of my psychiatrist. Here’s the name of my CPH person. You can check with them. I’ve been doing this for over a year now and I haven’t hurt a patient and I’m not going to hurt a patient and I’m going to stay in therapy with CPH for the rest of my professional life.”

At that point OPMC will find no particular reason to make you stop practicing and, in fact, will let you continue because they have some degree of confidence that you are with CPH and they will be notified if you are not. They have a degree of confidence that you are not cheating and taking drugs because you are having your random urine studies done. This is a good idea. The problem that happens is when OPMC gets a complaint from the public or from a co-worker about a doctor and comes in and talks to him and makes the doctor surrender his privilege of practicing for a period of time. Now the doctor is going to have to start the rehab process while not having an active license; not being able to treat patients.

This is a massive hit on his income, as you can imagine, and leads to all sorts of other problems. The doctor then has to go into rehab, get with CPH, go through all of the other things – the psychiatrist, the twelve step program, the urine studies – and then go to a hearing with OPMC after about two or two and a half or three years to prove that he or she is now competent and able to practice. The much better situation is where the doctor or often his family or co-worker realizes the problem and has the doctor or nurse get into therapy before the government finds out about it and comes down on them with a ton of bricks. Once you’re cut off from your income, everything else goes downhill from there as you can imagine. That’s a very important distinction and you have to be true to yourself and understand what’s going on or you will be in serious trouble.

Walker Medical Law serves the greater New York City area with quality legal services representing physicians and other medical providers facing legal and license issues. If you need our legal services, contact our New York office for a consultation.