Rising number of medical workers resorting to drugs to cope with stress

(AFP pic)

GEORGE TOWN: A government psychiatrist today claimed there has been a rising number of medical workers in the northern region resorting to illicit drugs to cope with stress and long working hours of late.

The psychiatrist, who has been treating patients who were doctors themselves, revealed that they were mostly addicted to heroin, ice (meth or methamphetamine) and even opioids.

The psychiatrist said these doctors and medical workers have blamed lack of sleep, depression and heavy workload as reasons behind their drug abuse.

“Some lightweight users have resorted to cough mixtures to counter sleep issues, while some have opted for heroin and opioids. Some are not work-related but due to poor finances and marital issues.

“While the number in hospitals in the north can be seen as high, we were told that the situation in Klang Valley hospitals is worse, with close to triple digit numbers,” the psychiatrist told FMT in strict anonymity.

The psychiatrist said he was not at liberty to disclose the exact number of medical workers with drug abuse issues due to doctor-patient confidentiality, but said the number could be in the double-digit range in some hospitals in the north.

“We advise those undergoing depression and stress not to resort to illegal drug abuse as it may cause adverse side effects which may harm their health in general.

“We strongly urge them to come forward, preferably to see a psychiatrist, to address their problems and arrest their addiction problem. They need to cope with stress,” the officer said.

FMT could not independently verify this psychiatrist’s claims, with the health ministry denying there are any such issues in general hospitals around the country.

The psychiatrist was commenting on a Bernama report yesterday quoting a government hospital doctor who has sought rehabilitation after becoming addicted to meth. He said he resorted to meth to cope with the long hours at work and stress.

He thought he could handle the situation but sought help when he couldn’t. He said he had to put off his wedding as a result and could not bear the insults thrown his way by relatives.

Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said there was no data proving claims that healthcare workers are drug abusers.

He said the Bernama report had quoted just one doctor and it could be the case of one rotten apple among the lot. He said drug abusers are not confined to the medical sector.

“Drug abuse is a social problem. It is not more or less common in the healthcare sector, unless you have statistics to prove this claim.

“This is a problem that affects all sectors, including professionals, not just those in the healthcare sector.

“There are no statistics to show that healthcare workers are more prone to drug abuse.”

Meanwhile, FMT spoke to a doctor who confessed to be a “light” user of drugs. He said he first started picking up the habit when he was studying medicine in Russia.

He claimed this was common in Russia and said as long as it did not go beyond a limit, it was safe.

“We call it ‘doping’. We won’t overdo it and stay just within the limits. We are doctors. We know the limits,” he said confidently.

“But the stress is real. Working long hours is no joke and sometimes these drugs keep us in top form.”

A support group for intern doctors told FMT the numbers are “not likely to be that high” and there was a lack of evidence to support the contention that medical workers were hooked to drugs.

“It should not be associated with long working hours,” the group’s spokesman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.