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How accusations of substance abuse can harm California physicians

As a physician, you know you have a responsibility to your patients. Among other things, this means making sure that you don’t allow drugs or alcohol to impair your judgment or performance.

At times, this can be obvious. You don’t want to show up drunk to a surgery, like the doctor recently accused of trying to perform a C-section with a .30 BAC. But other concerns may be far subtler, and your license isn’t the only thing at stake.

Dealing with substance abuse allegations

If a doctor is arrested for a DUI or drug-related charge, that doctor will almost certainly face an investigation from the California Medical Board. There’s no guarantee the doctor will lose his or her license, but the Board may ask the doctor to meet with a physician health program (PHP) to address any substance abuse issues.

Maybe the doctor knows this was a one-time issue. It was a mistake, yes, but nothing that follows a pattern. So, confidently, the doctor heads to the PHP. What the doctor doesn’t know is that this may be a big mistake.

As others have noted, your initial response to the California Medical Board and PHP referral can set you along a path with many hidden side-effects. These may include:

  • Being forced to pay out-of-pocket for appointments with the PHP’s choice of providers
  • Being forced to participate in lengthy and costly treatment programs, often hours from your home
  • Facing reproof for being “uncooperative” if you don’t follow the PHP’s every recommendation

What makes all of this so critical to understand is the fact that you don’t need a DUI to find yourself having to address substance abuse. Anyone can file a complaint with the Medical Board.

If the complaint reaches the stage where you’re asked to respond, you’ll have more than your license on the line. You might feel confident that you can retain your license. But even if you keep your license, you may find yourself pushed along a path towards thousands of dollars and countless hours dealing with recommendations from the PHP.

Understand your rights before you reply

As a doctor, your license is your job. It’s your career, house, food and everything else you need to feed, educate and entertain your family. Substance abuse can put that all at risk, but so can allegations of substance abuse, even when they’re not fully founded. Before you respond to any inquiry, you want to understand the chain of events that may follow.

You can protect your license by making sure you don’t show up drunk to surgery. And you can protect it by responding carefully to delicate situations.

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