Gov't: 1 in 10 doctors abuse drugs or alcohol

Gov't: 1 in 10 doctors abuse drugs or alcohol
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Government studies show at least 100,000 doctors - that's 1 in 10 working today - are abusing drugs or alcohol. Some of them are accused of the unthinkable: performing surgeries while stoned, injuring or even killing their patients.

"There are doctors out there right now...under the influence of prescription narcotics as we speak, putting patients at risk," said Dr. Stephen Loyd from Tennessee.

Dr. Loyd should know - he was one of them.

LOYD: "At my worst, I was doing 100 pills a day, Vicodin mainly.
REPORTER: "You were taking a 100 pills a day?"
LOYD: "Yes."
REPORTER: "And you were seeing patients?"
LOYD: "I was seeing patients."
REPORTER: "That's frightening."
LOYD: "It's very frightening. Frightening for me to talk about it with you right now."

Loyd was an internist, working in a hospital's emergency room. He said it's easy for physicians to score pills.

"I have access, and every friend I have is a doctor," Loyd explained.

Loyd said he's never been accused of harming a patient while stoned. Other doctors have, though. Dr. Christopher Duntsch once billed himself as the "best neurosurgeon in Dallas." One of his former patients, Jeff Cheney, is now barely able to walk. He went in for what Dr. Duntsch said would be routine back surgery and came out partially paralyzed.

He claims Dr. Duntsch was stoned while operating on him and removed part of his spinal cord.

"He turned me from a strong, healthy man into a crippled man," Cheney told NBC News.

A dozen other patients said Dr. Duntsch botched their surgeries, too, turning some into paraplegics and quadriplegics, confining them to wheelchairs. According to lawsuits, two patients even died after Duntsch operated on them.

In a recent legal deposition, one of Duntsch's assistants testified he often drank at work, keeping a bottle of vodka under his desk. One of his friends said the doctor used both LSD and cocaine.

Dr. Duntsch himself denied any wrongdoing, but when under oath repeatedly invoked his 5th amendment rights. He has not been charged with any crimes and the state medical board found no evidence he was on drugs or alcohol during surgeries, but his license was revoked because he "violated the standard of care."

Dr. Loyd said it's all too common. He's been clean for 10 years and said his fellow physicians need to take responsibility as well.

"I'm not saying there aren't consequences. There are consequences for me....If i've harmed a patient and a patient sees this interview and figures I harmed them, then there'll be a price for me to pay for that....Part of getting better with addictive disease is owning the mistakes of the past."

The American Medical Association told NBC News if doctors are abusing drugs or alcohol, they have the ethical responsibility to avoid harming patients. There are special treatment programs specifically for doctors, but there isn't a federal law requiring them to take random drug tests.