Letter to dvm360: Misguided solution to suicide crisis

dvm360, dvm360 September 2019, Volume 50, Issue 9

A group of dvm360 readers believe Dr. Andy Roarks suggestion to prevent suicide by restricting access to certain drugs fails to address the why? that motivates the veterinarian to use controlled drugs.

(Editor's note: This edited letter to dvm360 includes discussion of suicide and mental health issues. If you're experiencing feelings of depression or suicidal ideation, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK; 800-273-8255; suicidepreventionlifeline.org). It's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No matter what problems you are dealing with, people on the other end of the line will help you find a reason to keep living.)

We are a collection of un-famous, regular veterinarians, and some of us have counseled colleagues through the darkest of times, helping friends escape suicide. Some of us have experienced the darkest of times, having escaped suicide. And we believe that while Dr. Andy Roark has done wonderful things to advance our profession, his recent piece advocating a “four eyes system”-published on his blog and written about on dvm360.com-misses the mark. (Editor's note: Dr. Roark suggests that a second set of eyes on certain drugs could help slow down and help prevent death by suicide in veterinary professionals.) We read Dr. Roark's list of contributing factors to the problem of suicide within our ranks-low pay, high debt, compassion fatigue, long work hours, work overload and poor work-life balance-and continued reading as he suggested the next step to be restricting access to controlled drugs. What?

His suggestion fails to address the “why?” that motivates the veterinarian to use controlled drugs. It aims at the periphery of the problem without actually addressing root causes. It has, as its foundation, emotional anecdotes and unscientific surveys. It shifts responsibility away from culpable parties and labels practice owners as participants in the problem, who have been either minding their own business for a long, long time or working in very non-public ways-building relationships, taking phone calls in the middle of the night, etc.-to prevent suicide, one individual at a time.

Because we are expected to take Dr. Roark's anecdotes as truth, we submit our own experiences as truth as well, including the fact that a mere one of the suicides within our collective circle of colleagues involved the individual using drugs obtained from work. This was carefully planned and no amount of “four eyes” would have stopped it. The rest involved scalpels, cars, guns and rope. Ought access be limited to these items?

Dr. Roark could work to compile data to show how expanding class sizes and increasing tuition at a rate dramatically outpacing inflation is setting up graduates for neither a prospect at debt-free life nor any semblance of work-life balance. Or he could participate with us as we formulate ways for colleges to more strategically select from their candidates. Or he could participate in brainstorming about combating the stigma associated with an associate veterinarian approaching a boss about seeking therapy or hospitalization for mental health dysfunction. Or he could challenge AVMA PLIT to defend members with a history of mental health hospitalization or alcohol/drug rehabilitation. Or he could suggest to our large, representative associations that they actually advocate for us professionals by aggressively combating cyber-bullying and demonstrating the value of a sound, scientific veterinarian to the broader public. Any of these, and certainly more, will go much further in addressing the factors Dr. Roark listed than “four eyes” on the lock box.

  • Suzanne Cosentino, DVM, Missouri
  • Valerie Fournier, DVM, California
  • Ryan Gates, DVM, Ohio
  • Harold Jones, DVM, Florida
  • Richard McAroy, DVM, New Hampshire
  • Brenda Motsco, DVM, Ohio
  • Michael New, DVM, Alaska
  • Grace Shook, DVM, Florida
  • Scott Vaughan, DVM, North Carolina
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