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Should Doctors be Tested for Drugs and Alcohol Abuse?

There is much talk about California's Proposition 46, which sets out specific circumstances for California doctors to be tested for drug and alcohol use. November 4, 2014 voters will decide on the proposition which many consider a public health issue.

Specifically, Proposition 46 states;

"Requires drug and alcohol testing of doctors and reporting of positive test to the California Medical Board. Requires Board to suspend doctor pending investigation of positive test and take disciplinary action if doctor was impaired while on duty. Requires doctors to report any other doctor suspected of drug or alcohol impairment or medical negligence."

Many doctors have voiced their dislike of this proposition, disparaging it as an insult. They cite the contradiction of testing someone who has sworn a solemn oath to aid, serve and protect the sick and ailing. Proponents, however, feel that in a day and age where public health and safety workers are regularly tested for drug and alcohol use, its high time doctors were as well.

Statistics show the percentage of doctors and medical professionals who’ve abused drugs or alcohol is nearly 18%. Some advocates of the bill say that at the very least medical professionals who can put patients in extreme danger when not on their game should be randomly tested. Medical professionals like surgeons, obstetricians, and anesthesiologists can seriously injure or kill a patient if treating them when intoxicated. General practitioners and less dangerous professionals should be randomly tested at longer intervals.

This ballot initiative is making strong waves across the state and faces serious opposition. Many doctors and medical coalitions are against it and are heavily campaigning for its death, raising more than $35 million to defeat it. It stemmed, initially, from the increasing amount of medical malpractice cases in California. Many ask why airplane pilots, train conductors, policemen and firefighters are subjected to drug and alcohol testing but doctors are exempt. It isn’t a differentiation that is popular in today’s world.

Doctors see this proposition, which is actually part of a larger initiative pushed by trial lawyers to raise the rewards cap for medical malpractice victims, the first of its kind since 1975, taking it from $250,000 to $1.1 million. They write it off as a ploy from lawyers to make more money despite the fact that $250,000 has lost more than 75% of its value since 1975.

Advocates cannot match the millions the medical association has put forth to fight this initiative but a very popular Youtube video has been circulating by The Watchdog Group called Pee in a Cup- The Musical that takes a whimsical look at why doctors should also take drug tests considering the very well-known issue of medical drug abuse.

Some influential advocates are also taking a public stand in favor of the initiative such as Senator Barbra Boxer and minority leader Representative Nancy Pelosi. If the initiative passes, it will open the door for the rest of the country, who is watching closely, to do the same. It is an interesting and heated debate the entire country can be affected by.