First, Do No Harm; A Doctor's Role in Fighting an Epidemic of Moral Despair

I am an Addiction Medicine Physician and Psychiatrist located in Mercer Island who is dedicated to serving the needs of those injured by toxins. As a passionate healthcare advocate caring for the health and well-being of my patients suffering with the mental and physical effects of alcohol use disorder and other substances, I am particularly concerned about the surges in overdose and the impact on mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak and believe that a paradigm shift is needed to reframe the alcoholic culture that has been wholly ingrained into our societal norms.

According to a survey by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism  (NIAAA), 15.1 million American adults suffered from alcohol use disorder (or alcoholism) in 2015 alone. Additionally, there are around 88,000 alcohol-related deaths in the US each year, making alcohol the fourth leading cause of preventable death in America. In addition, experts from Yale Medicine report that The World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) have issued warnings asking people to avoid excessive drinking, citing an increased susceptibility and severity to the coronavirus

Despite bar and restaurant closures, online alcohol sales in the US has increased upwards of 243%.  Zoom happy hours encourage webcam drinking to fill the void for those missing the more traditional “liquid lunches.” Liquor stores are designated essential businesses, as cutting off the supply of this deadly and toxic substance would place individuals with problematic use at risk for a dangerous, potentially life-threatening condition. The marketing of wine, beer and spirits is big business but at what cost?

The Hippocratic Oath goes beyond the normal constraints of the doctor-patient relationship and calls into question the physicians’ duty in consideration and significance of “First, Do No Harm.” The larger role of the physician advocate in society speaks to mitigating the harms from corporate greed that are fueling the public health crisis, placing our patients at risk. A worldwide disaster, preventable death by alcohol kills 3 million of us every year. it’s time we ask ourselves why we continue to romanticize a culture that revels in keeping so many addicted. There are over 14 million Americans with this chronic, progressive, often fatal disorder with countless family members also suffering the consequences. It’s time for physicians to lead the nation, stop the harms, and end this epidemic.

Dr. Richard Repass

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