To tackle this research, he and colleagues looked at disciplinary records for 41,612 people who began anesthesiology residency training in teaching hospitals between 1975 and 2009. Of 49 residents who had died as of Dec. 31, 2010, and for whom the cause of death was known, substance abuse disorder was related to the cause of death for 44.
Residency program directors are required to report disciplinary records to the American Board of Anesthesiology, which reviews applicants for board certification. Warner, a member of the ABA's board of directors, says the data seemed to present an opportunity to research "the perception, whether true or not, that anesthesiologists have more access to these kinds of drugs and are more prone to develop substance use disorders.
"It also interests me personally because we have contact with these doctors through the board, and we see the consequences of this behavior," he says.
This research did not look at anesthesiologists who developed substance use disorders after their residency, although that project is among those next on his list, Warner says.