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The prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse among Utah medical professionals generally is higher than the public realizes, but their recovery rate is also higher than in the general population, according to a medical association official.

Dr. Raymond Middleton, chairman for the committee on physician health, Utah Medical Association, said the problem needs to be addressed constantly by the Utah Medical Licensing Board."When I was in medical school, about 100 years ago, our professor told our class of about 100 students that two or three of us would become addicted," Middleton said. "That was the end of the addiction lecture." He believes physicians need more training about substance abuse.

"Education is the thing to beat it," he said. "My experience with Utah physicians' recovery rate is that it's between 75 and 80 percent. The recovery rate of the general public is about 62 or 65 percent. Physicians and airline pilots have the highest recovery rate."

He said the fear of losing their professional licenses, and thus their careers, is an impetus for change and recovery.

These and other topics were discussed during the session on "The Psychology and Handling of Sex Offenders and Substance Abuse Offenders" at the annual meeting of boards and professional associations, sponsored by the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing in Park City Monday.

Middleton said there is a wide variation of opinions among experts but offered some predictors of potential for alcohol or drug abuse among medical professionals. Among them are:

- Non-Jewish ancestry

- Cigarette use of more than one pack a day

- Frequent use of alcohol in nonsocial settings

- Self-treatment of pain

- Absence of effective prevention strategies

- A pattern of over-prescribing

Middleton's focus was on rehabilitation and salvaging the physician, especially substance abusers.

Robert Steed, assistant for the Utah attorney general's office, said his job, above all, is to protect the public.

Steed said he takes "a hard-line, no-tolerance stand with sexual abusers because there always is a victim." He believes if a health-care professional is convicted of sexual abuse, the license should be revoked.

"I argue before the medical board that recovery from sexual abuse shouldn't be a condition for keeping the license, but a condition for ever getting it back. That is predatory behavior." He said there is no duty to rehabilitate the offender, but "we should if we can."