Oakland, CA – Consumer Watchdog launched a billboard publicizing a new toll-free hotline, 1-844-DOCS-DUI, calling on the public and physicians to report suspected drug and alcohol abuse by doctors. A woman harmed by her physician, who found out only later that the doctor had an alcohol abuse problem, called for transparency and reform.
The billboard says: “2 in 10 doctors will be alcohol or drug impaired. Call 1-844-DOCS-DUI to report an impaired doctor.”
“The California Medical Board has estimated that 18% of doctors will have a drug or alcohol problem during their careers, yet California has no system to identify doctors who abuse substances. This hotline will give the public a place to report concerns about impaired doctors to protect patients and save lives,” said Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog.
Tina Minasian, a Roseville woman mutilated by a doctor’s negligence who is still in pain and recovering 11 years later, found out only after her surgery that her doctor had an alcohol abuse problem. The doctor, Brian West, had a history of DUI arrests, including one while on the way to the hospital to treat a patient, but avoided discipline for years through a now-defunct state program that allowed doctors to conceal abuse problems from their patients.
“I was a victim of a doctor who was addicted to alcohol but was allowed to keep his problem secret and continue practicing. Eleven years later I still suffer from the lingering effects of this surgery with excruciating pain and spitting sutures. If I would have known this information ahead of time, I would never have chosen him and I would have never gotten hurt,” said Tina Minasian.
A review of six years of the California Medical Board’s physician disciplinary records reveals that one in every eight involved drug or alcohol abuse by a doctor.
âž¢ Dr. Stacey Hoffmann was first convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol in 2008. In 2010, she was convicted of a second DUI, this time with her two young sons in her car. During a Medical Board investigation of the drunk driving convictions, Hoffmann admitted that she was prescribing large quantities of Norco, a narcotic combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, to her boyfriend. In 2011, Hoffmann inflicted third degrees burns on one of her patients while attempting to perform a medical procedure under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In August 2011, the Medical Board drug tested Hoffmann at her workplace and determined that she had been practicing medicine while impaired by hydrocodone, morphine, methadone and codeine.
âž¢ In March 2010, Dr. T.J. Maroon, a Sacramento-based anesthesiologist, took a one-week leave of absence after he was observed to be high while administering anesthetics to pre-operative surgery patients. He was not drug tested, and was allowed to return to work. Two months later, Maroon was again observed administering anesthetics while high on Demerol. One of Maroon’s patients awoke from anesthesia before his surgery had begun. Maroon refused to undergo drug testing. He later admitted his Demerol use.
âž¢ In 2011 and 2012, staff at Lodi Memorial Hospital were slow to respond to evidence that a physician was inhaling commercial solvents in his office during work hours. Dr. Peter Hickox’s drug use was first noticed by a janitor, who found suspiciously large numbers of discarded vials in Dr. Hickox’s trash. The janitor alerted Hickox’s managers on three different occasions over many months before the hospital finally acted to suspend Hickox’s privileges in February 2012.
Consumer Watchdog will collect and investigate reports made to the hotline, and work with callers to submit formal complaints to the California Medical Board and the suspected physician’s place of employment where appropriate.
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