Medicine: ... but clinic offers them a safe haven

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The Independent Online
In the Berkshire countryside, a rehabilitation centre has been set up to deal exclusively with health professionals suffering from substance addiction.

The Foxleigh Grove Chemical Dependency Centre, near Maidenhead, provides an environment in which doctors can be treated without the risk of later being blackmailed by fellow patients who threaten to expose them if they do not supply them with drugs. They are guaranteed anonymity because allsupport the principles of the Hippocratic oath.

Rory O'Connor, the centre's director, said: "In Foxleigh Grove you are not alone. You can see there are other people like you and it makes the shame bearable and engenders a sense of hope that things can change."

Surrounded by their peers, the doctors can focus on their own condition. Such an environment is conducive to allowing them to come out of a state of denial and to accept that they need help.

Foxleigh Grove has a remarkable record, with 89 per cent of the 130 health professionals so far treated avoiding relapse. At some rehabilitation units, patients have only an even chance of success.

Malcolm (not his real name), a pharmacist based on the south coast, has recently completed the Foxleigh programme in an effort to overcome a 17- year dependency on benzodiazepines. At times he would go into work only to get access to tablets. "I was taking them in handfuls. It was all my life consisted of," he said.

Malcolm sought treatment after realising that he could no longer remember what he had prescribed, and suffered sleepless nights worrying about what he had dispensed. He has now been free of the pills for a year and is back at work. "I didn't think I would ever come off them. Now I feel wonderful, but so ashamed of what I did."

The Foxleigh programme lasts for 35 days and demands total abstinence. For most patients, detoxification is achieved within five to seven days and the rest of the programme is based on counselling and group therapy. Patients are encouraged to participate in physiotherapy and aromatherapy. They are then offered after-programme treatment and encouraged to join Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Among the helpers at Foxleigh Grove is Joe Mee, a one-time alcoholic dentist, who is able to reassure other health professionals that they can overcome their dependency and continue their career.

Michael, a surgeon, was forced to give up work after 10 years of alcohol problems. Last month he was appointed to a new consultant surgical position after successful treatment at Foxleigh Grove. He said that his new employers were aware of his drink history. Now 53, he hopes to work for another 10 years. "Without the treatment I would never have worked again and certainly would have lost my family. I would probably be in a bedsit by now on the SS [social security]."