The opioid epidemic and the current prevalence of substance use disorder in anesthesiologists

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Purpose of review

There has been a substantial increase in prescription and illicit opioid abuse in the general population observed over the last two decades. Initially fueled by an influx of prescription opioid medications, the opioid epidemic now includes increasingly potent heroin and illicit fentanyl. Younger anesthesiologists, those currently in training or recent graduates, have come of age in a society where opioid abuse is much more prevalent.

Recent findings

The current prevalence of substance use disorder (SUD) in the physician population is slightly higher than in the general population and appears to be increasing. Although most anesthesiologists with SUD will abuse alcohol as their drug of choice, the incidence of opioid and nonopioid anesthetic agent abuse, especially propofol, is increasing. The incidence of SUD among the anesthesia resident population decreased somewhat during the 1990s but has been steadily increasing since the year 2000.


The increasing incidence of substance use disorder in anesthesia residents may reflect the significantly increased number of persons addicted to opioids and other drugs of abuse in the general population. Despite educational and surveillance programs put in place to prevent diversion, susceptible individuals with access are still abusing anesthetic agents.

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