Doctors' drinking 'out of control'

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JUNIOR DOCTORS drink up to six pints of beer a day and take illicit drugs including cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, according to a study.

The scale of excessive drink and drug taking may be putting at risk the health of the doctors and the safety of their patients, researchers from the University of Newcastle say.

The survey of 90 newly qualified doctors at 18 hospitals in the North- east of England found that 60 per cent were drinking above the recommended safety limits of two pints of beer or equivalent a day for a man and one and a half pints for a woman.

Ten doctors, four men and six women, were drinking at hazardous levels, defined as more than 25 pints or equivalent a week for a man and 17.5 pints for a woman.

One man drank 42 pints a week (six a day) and one woman drank 30 pints (more than four a day). Overall, the doctors' drinking had increased since they were medical students.

More than one-third of the men and almost one-fifth of the women used cannabis and more than one in ten of both sexes said that they used other illicit drugs, including magic mushrooms, LSD, ecstasy, amyl nitrate and cocaine. The main reason they gave for their drug use was "pleasure".

The survey revealed that one-fifth of the men and nearly half the women had high levels of stress and anxiety, but this was related to pressures of work, not drink and drugs.

The authors, writing in The Lancet, say that the lifestyle of junior doctors uncovered by the survey is unlikely to be confined to the North- east. "The current drinking habits, illicit drug use and stress in some junior doctors is of concern, not only for their own well-being, but also how they may affect patients' care."

They point out that mandatory urine screening is carried out by the British Army and some companies in Britain and among doctors in the United States. They ask whether routine or random screening for drugs and alcohol should be considered.