Investigation shows dozens of Maryland doctors struggle with addiction

BALTIMORE - When Eric Greenberg's house was busted by cops and the DEA in 2009, they say they found him disheveled, with fresh needle marks on his arms and feet. 

A detective said there was white powder everywhere and records show Greenberg later tested positive for cocaine. 

The bust came as a shock to neighbors and not just because it happened on their street, but because Greenberg was a doctor, licensed by the state of Maryland.  And the home that was raided was also the office where Greenberg saw patients.

What Greenberg did in his Montgomery County office ultimately cost him his job.  Although a criminal conviction was eventually tossed, the Maryland Board of Physicians took action based on information gathered in the raid, revoking Greenberg's license for prescribing drugs for illegitimate purposes and taking illegal drugs himself. 

The order to abstain from drugs was a condition of an earlier probation after the board stepped in to curb what it considered a potential problem with Greenberg. 

His case, and others like it, shine a light on a dark problem  most of us don't want to consider.  Baltimore County addiction expert Mike Gimbel knows why. 

He's a former addict and can understand your fears, "That's a place I don't think we even want to go to.  It scares us to much to think about a surgeon, a doctor, being impaired on the job."

But it happens and Maryland's doctors are not immune to substance abuse.  Gimbel is clear, "Alcohol and drug abuse does not discriminate. 

It can affect anybody."  Our ABC2 News investigation of records from the Maryland Board of Physicians turned up dozens of cases detailing doctors struggling with their own demons on the job. 

On the eastern shore, we found Doctor David Allen.  His license was originally suspended and then he was put on probation after the Board says he injected himself with opiate-filled needles and was found digging for needles in the sharps container while on shift at a hospital.

In Baltimore County, Doctor Minus Vasiliades was suspended after a patient said he pulled out a bag of cocaine and snorted it in front of her.  Then, there's Doctor Mubashar Choudry.  The Board says he tried to read EKGs at a Maryland hospital while under the influence of alcohol.

Maryland Delegate Dan Morhaim knows the damage that can be caused by abuse.  He says, "Sooner or later, it will catch up with them."

Morhaim is an emergency room physician who thinks substance abuse among doctors, and all professions, should not be kept silent. 

He tells ABC2, "We all need to talk about this and recognize this as part of our culture.  The best way to deal with it is openly and honestly."

For some doctors here, the state steps in to deal with this issue through the Maryland Professional Rehabilitation Program.  The program is contracted out by the Maryland Board of Physicians.  According to reports submitted by the Board, dozens of doctors have enrolled in the last five.  34 doctors enrolled in the program in 2011 alone. 

The Board says it can't release the names of physicians in the program, but many are outed in public discipline records when treatment and monitoring are required. 

Morhaim says, "They work with the Board of Physicians so public safety is ensured and they try to get these physicians back on track."

As for most alcoholics and addicts though, recovery is a rough road, and not all doctors make it, potentially putting you at risk as they struggle to stay clean under the state's watch.

Baltimore County's Doctor Joseph Gregory Hobelmann is one example.  He was enrolled in a five year monitoring program in 2008 after testing positive for drugs. 

A year later, while in the program, the Board says he took meds from a patient's pain pump and tested positive on a drug test.  In 2011, his license was suspended after Hobelmann admitted to the Board he used cocaine, drank Listerine to calm down and used his son's urine to fake tests.

But some physicians never even get referred to the state program.  Although he was ordered to abstain from drugs and see a psychiatrist, sanctions in Eric Greenberg's records show no mention of the state's rehab program in six years of dealings with the Board. 

Gimbel believes he knows why some doctors don't get the treatment they need, "There's a lot of denial."  The denial may come from patients who find it hard to accept that the people we trust with life and death decisions,  could struggle with their own. 

Gimbel explains, "We prop up our doctors to be almost godlike because they hold our lives in their hands. We don't want to think for a minute that my doctor might be drinking too much or taking pills or be impaired when he's making decisions about my life.  That's a hard thing to accept."

If you suspect a physician may be struggling with substance abuse or if you want to lodge a complaint for any other reason, you can contact the Maryland Board of Physicians .

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