Drug-addicted doctor treatment using long-term follow-up seems to help

— The day a 39-year-old surgeon checked into his rustic cabin here at Bradford Health Services, he said he doubted that he could beat his decades-long struggle with alcohol and find joy again in treating patients. Three weeks later, he said, he was convinced otherwise.

It took six weeks for a 54-year-old physician to see a way out of her depression, anxiety and addiction to prescription painkillers. But now she says she’s confident and excited to return to practice.

They are among hundreds of physicians from across the country who come to this pine-shaded retreat 25 miles north of Birmingham, where they can get mental-health and addiction treatment without jeopardizing their medical licenses.

Bradford’s regimen isn’t unique — more than a dozen other addiction centers offer similar programs — but because it works hand in hand with state programs that follow up for five years with drug testing and because doctors can lose their licenses if they relapse, it is extraordinarily effective.

Studies have found that these programs have a success rate of 70 to 90 percent, far higher than the 50 percent rate typical of programs offered to the general population. Researchers believe its rewards-based strategy and extensive follow-up care could help many more of the roughly 20 million Americans who suffer from opioid and other drug and alcohol addictions.

The typical person who is addicted to opioids or other substances relapses multiple times before maintaining long-term sobriety, even when treated with highly effective medications and evidence-based behavioral therapies. In an opioid epidemic that is killing about 145 Americans every day, according to preliminary estimates for 2016, finding effective addiction treatment can make the difference between life and death.

How it works

More than 1 in 10 doctors becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, a slightly higher rate than in the general population. Burnout, a recognized problem in the medical…

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