The state of Nebraska should do more and help physicians-addicts to recover

The shame associated with substance abuse is still prevalent and harmful in the state of Nebraska. I am a recovering addict as well as a doctor at the same time. Because Nebraska has a system that can end careers, the combination of those two factors is a recipe for disaster in the state. The Nebraska Board of Medicine and our judicial system are making strenuous efforts, not to rehabilitate addicts, but rather to punish them. My goal is to use this experience to demonstrate how Nebraska’s legal system is more severe than that of other states and to encourage reform in both the medical and legal fields. I am by no means an expert, but I do have some experience, and I also have a story to tell.

Hydrocodone, a semi-synthetic opioid that is derived from opium, was my medication of choice at the time. When I think back on it now, I wish I hadn’t taken the first tablet when I was being treated for prostate cancer. My brain was almost instantly seized by the craving for more hydrocodone, despite the fact that I had no history of addiction in the past and did not partake in alcohol consumption. Before I started treatment, I was completely ignorant about the condition of addiction, so I sought out professionals like Dr. Robert DuPont to educate myself. During the terms of two different presidents, he served as the drug czar at the White House.

He explained to me that when someone is addicted to a substance, their brain is essentially taken over by the substance, which “exaggerates the demand and reduces the dangers” of the substance. This was such a confirmation for me since the chemicals in my brain were telling me that I was going to pass away if I did not have access to the drug. It was an awful and terrifying way to go about one’s daily life. And I was a bad person, and my actions were nothing short of abhorrent.

Both the state of Nebraska and the state of North Carolina recognize my medical license. The approaches taken by these two states to the treatment of substance use disorders are very different. Only three other states do not have a Physicians Health Program, and Nebraska is one of them (PHP). A physician is able to return to practice, undergo therapy, and agree to be monitored if they participate in a physician participation program (PHP), which is designed to preserve the provider’s license from the medical board. Because I am a member of the North Carolina Physicians Health Program, which has assisted more than 4,000 physicians, my medical license status in North Carolina is “Active.”

In Nebraska, where there is no public housing option, my status is “Active, on Probation.” This is an extremely restrictive term. No physician on probation will be considered for employment at Bryan Medical Center or any of the clinics that are affiliated with it. This discriminatory restriction continues to exist despite the fact that I have a history of recovery that spans over 58 months.

In the beginning of this year, Dr. John Rusher, who is the president of the North Carolina Medical Board, spoke with all of the licensed physicians in that state by email. His advice was to “not put off getting help for substance abuse…. Everyone who is having trouble should be aware that they can ask for assistance without worrying about getting in trouble with the board. He went on to say that “…the board appreciates the health and wellbeing of their employees.” The North Carolina Medical Board takes a proactive approach that reduces stigma and fosters rehabilitation because to the presence of a patient help program (PHP).

In Nebraska, a medical professional is not dealt with in this manner. When our governing body finds out, the physician who is addicted might have his or her license revoked or suspended; if the license is reinstated, the physician would then be subject to a probationary period of at least five years. Because I felt so alone, I put off getting help for my addiction, which led to its progression.

It will have been five years since I completed treatment when the monitoring agreement that I have with the North Carolina PHP is set to expire on April 24, 2023. My parole in Nebraska won’t be lifted until the 25th of July in 2024, which is more than six years away. Because Nebraska does not conduct any monitoring during the suspension period, I decided to hire a private physician to conduct random drug tests. This is something that is recognized by North Carolina, but not Nebraska. My request to our medical board to have the same duration of monitoring was denied, despite the fact that I made the request. An egregious illustration of how a PHP operates.

I am pleased to say that I am a graduate of the Talbott Recovery Campus in Atlanta, Georgia. There, they employ an all-encompassing treatment approach to assist in the recovery of pilots and medical professionals from all over the world. After completing a program that lasts for five weeks, pilots can return to their jobs, but only if they agree to be watched. It is required that physicians participate in the program for a period of three months. When I returned, my medical license had been suspended, the United States Attorney’s Office was getting ready to indict me, and my medical practice had been shut down, which meant that thousands of my patients had to find a new medical provider.

My objective, along with that of others, is to see to it that a PHP is established in the state of Nebraska so that the general public may be safeguarded and medical professionals can keep their jobs. I will continue to try to erase the stigma of shame that has been placed on those who are addicted by society, our medical board, and the judicial system. Addiction is an illness, not a moral failing, and I will continue to work to eradicate this stigma.

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