Physician Heal Thyself

Doctors have own problems in recovering from opioid abuse, including denial of access to key medication

When Dr. Sylvester Sviokla speaks to physicians at Harvard about the dangers of opioid addiction, they pay attention. He is in recovery from addiction himself.

“I went to Harvard College, Harvard Medical School, I played football, I was a big doctor,’’ he relates, before adding: “If it could happen to me, it can happen to you.’’

Medical professionals are far from immune to opioid misuse. In fact, due to their easy access to pain medication and the high stress levels that come with treating patients, they may be especially susceptible. But for many clinicians, overcoming an opioid dependence can be even more challenging than for those in the general population. They say they are often denied access to medication approved to help them recover from opioid addiction, precisely because they practice medicine.