Doctors Aren’t Immune To Addiction: A physicians journey from substance abuse to success

“I never thought it could possibly happen to me” – Dr. Richard Alan Morgan, DO

For millennia, wars have been fought over drugs. In fact, opium has appeared in written records dating back as far as 5,000 years ago, with the oldest therapeutic use dating back to 460 B.C. By the early 1800s, many regions in China were in crisis due to increased opioid abuse fueled by the lucrative drug trade business. As the prevalence of opioid use expanded in China, the imperial government became increasingly concerned. In 1800, the Emperor issued a decree forbidding opium importation in hopes of dissipating the crisis that had taken hold of the country.

Over 200 years later, we are still at an impasse regarding how to appropriately manage this class of drugs. Although these substances have important therapeutic properties for pain control, patients can easily become addicted, especially in the postoperative setting. The opioid epidemic has become a public health crisis with devastating consequences in the United States, extending beyond individuals and their families to affect entire states and regions. 

Even members of the medical community, such as physicians and other healthcare workers, are not immune to the devastating grip of opioid dependency and abuse. 

In our 25th episode of D.O. Or Do Not, Dr. Richard Alan Morgan, DO shares his story on how a routine prescription for pain relief turned into a grueling battle with opioid and benzodiazepine addiction. From practicing as a successful sports and physical medicine physician to living his daily life in dependency-induced self-isolation, Dr. Morgan describes his personal battles as a victim of this epidemic. Abusing his physician privileges to continue to fund his addiction, his story culminates in his arrest outside of his family home for the selling of prescription drugs. 

Following his arrest, this dark abyss of addiction concluded with Dr. Morgan serving 97 months of a 14 year sentence for conspiracy to distribute oxycodone. Since his release, he has begun the process of mending relationships with family and friends as well as helping others who suffer from addiction. Now employed as a professor at NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Morgan works to educate students on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of addiction in colleagues. 

“Trafficking Oxycontin is no different than trafficking cocaine, but in this case, the source of supply wore a white doctor’s coat.” Those words, spoken at Dr. Morgan’s arraignment, only emphasize the fact that addiction does not discriminate. It is a disease that knows not of gender, race, or success and targets each individual both equally and ruthlessly. It can happen to anyone. Although dark, Dr. Morgan’s story of addiction is not unique with over 100,000 medical professionals across the country currently fighting their own battles with drug abuse. From his experiences, we learn a relevant and timely lesson on how to recognize addiction in colleagues, find treatment programs dedicated to medical professionals, and create an environment for successful recovery.    

Episode 25 is available on the D.O. Or Do Not website and through Apple podcasts. Tune in to hear Dr. Morgan’s first-hand account of his battle with addiction, struggles with recovery, and how he now finds support and meaning in his life and career through his “osteopathic family.”

Seeking and Getting Help with Addiction

The Committee For Physician Health, a sector of the Physician Health Program for New York State, provides non-disciplinary, confidential assistance to physicians, residents, medical students, and physicians assistants experiencing problems including, but not limited to, substance abuse. CPH provides referrals and support to those enrolled in the program, but also to individuals calling in with concerns about physicians, such as colleagues, healthcare workers, family members, and self-reports. You can reach CPH at 518-436-7423. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration has a toll free line for individuals in crisis. According to their website, SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. You can reach them at 1-800-662-HELP.  

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