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Resident Physician Substance Use in the United States

Patrick H. Hughes, MD; Scott E. Conard, MD; DeWitt C. Baldwin Jr, MD; Carla L. Storr, MPH; David V. Sheehan, MD
JAMA. 1991;265(16):2069-2073. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03460160047027.
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A national survey was conducted to determine patterns of drug use among 3000 American resident physicians. Sixty percent (1785) of the residents surveyed responded. This report evaluates the prevalence of drug use among the respondents, when they initiated drug use, and their reasons for current use. Substance use rates are compared with other studies of resident physicians and with a sample of their nonphysician age peers surveyed the same year. Heavy substance use patterns were not observed among resident physicians. They had significantly lower rates of use for most psychoactive substances than their peers in the general population but did report higher rates of past-month use of alcohol and benzodiazepines. A sizable minority began using benzodiazepines and prescription opiates during their residency years—the stage in physicians' training when they first receive prescribing privileges. Current users of benzodiazepines and opiates used these drugs primarily for self-treatment rather than recreation. These two substances are often associated with impairment at later stages in the physician's career.

(JAMA. 1991;265:2069-2073)


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