End of Physician Drug, Alcohol Program Criticized
Physician groups oppose a decision by the Medical Board of California last week to abolish a diversion program for physicians with substance abuse problems, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
The board voted to phase out the drug and alcohol diversion program by June 2008, citing deficiencies in how the program is administered. The program allows physicians to retain their license if they complete a five-year course (Clark, San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/31). The board also directed its staff to no longer admit physicians to the program and to develop a transition plan.
The program was faulted in a June state audit for inconsistently monitoring participants, finding that more than one in four drug tests was not performed as randomly scheduled.
The audit also found that the program does not always require physicians to immediately stop practicing after testing positive for drugs or alcohol (California Healthline, 7/27).
The board soon will determine whether any regulatory agency can operate a diversion program effectively or whether an outside group should be hired. About 250 physicians currently participate in the program.
James Hay, an Encinitas physician, said that canceling the program will deter physicians with drug or alcohol problems from voluntarily coming forward. He added that physicians only will be reported after they have done something so bad that "someone would have to report them."
Hay spoke at last week's hearing on behalf of the California Medical Association, the Society of Addiction Medicine and Kaiser Permanente (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/31).