An estimated 23.5 million Americans suffer from drug and alcohol addiction. Unfortunately, Americans with medical histories of addiction may be treated in a discriminatory fashion by health care professionals. Even patients suspected of being addicts may run into trouble. This practice is referred to as ‘patient profiling’, where patients are stereotyped by medical professionals to be a certain way.
Take the recent case of a Brooklyn woman who died at Coney Island Hospital from meningitis. A nurse had assumed she was psychotic from synthetic marijuana, despite having a temperature of 101 and various other symptoms pointing to infection. A medical malpractice lawsuit filed against the hospital claims that instead of treating her for meningitis, nurses chained her to a bed and left her to die. Rather than being seen by a physician, the woman’s medical needs were allegedly ignored.
This example is a reminder that some medical professionals lack training or knowledge for treating people they suspect are addicts. Unfortunately, it is patients who suffer from this lack of understanding.
Is Addiction an Underreported Patient Safety Risk?
A 2012 Washington Post article described in detail how doctors lack training to identify and treat addicts. The article claims medical schools do not give doctors an in-depth understanding of addiction treatment. As a result, doctors may mistreat addicts, even unintentionally.
In the article, a Harvard medical student described how doctors mistreated patients returning to emergency rooms for gastrointestinal bleeding (seen in alcoholism) or endocarditis (a heart infection common in IV drug users).
Research backs up the claims made in the Washington Post article. In a 2014 edition of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a research team uncovered the attitudes doctors have towards drug-addicted patients. Doctors with little experience treating addicts reported feelings of hostility and fear.
This blog is not meant to bash doctors, but to point out a possible patient safety risk that may be underreported. If doctors view patients with fear or hostility, it is hard to imagine they could deliver adequate care.