In May 1999 G. Douglas Talbott stepped down as president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) as a jury awarded Dr. Leonard Masters a judgment of $1.3 million in actual damages and an undisclosed sum in punitive damages for fraud, malpractice, and the novel claim of false imprisonment.
The fraud finding required a finding that errors in the diagnosis were intentional. Masters, who was accused of overprescribing narcotics to his patients was told by the director of the Florida Physician Health Program (PHP) that he could either surrender his medical license until the allegations were disproved or submit to a four-day evaluation.
Thinking he would have an objective and fair evaluation, Masters agreed to the latter. He was instead diagnosed as “alcohol dependent” and coerced into “treatment under threat of loss of his medical license. Staff would routinely threaten to report any doctor who questioned any aspect of their diagnosis or treatment to their state medical boards “as being an impaired physician, leaving necessary treatment against medical advice,” the equivalent of professional suicide.
Masters, however, was not an alcoholic. Not even remotely so.
According to his attorney, Eric. S. Block, “No one ever accused him of having a problem with alcohol. Not his friends, not his wife, not his seven children, not his fellow doctors, not his employees, not his employers, No one.”
He was released 4 months later and forced to sign a five-year “continuing care” contract with the Florida PHP, also under continued threat of his medical license.
12 years earlier the Atlanta Constitution did a series of reports after five inpatients died by suicide at one of Talbott’s rehabilitation facilities called Ridgeview. At least 20 more killed themselves after leaving Ridgeview.
A jury awarded $1.3 million to the widow of one of the deceased physicians against Ridgeview and other lawsuits initiated on behalf of suicides were settled out of court.
The Constitution reported that doctors entered the program under threats of loss of licensure “even when they would prefer treatment that is cheaper and closer to home.” The paper also noted that Ridgeview “enjoys unparalleled connections with many local and state medical societies that work with troubled doctors,” “licensing boards often seek recommendations from such groups in devising an approved treatment plan,” and those in charge are often “physicians who themselves have successfully completed Ridgeview’s program.”
In 1997 William L. White interviewed Dr. LeClair Bissell, M.D., one of the pioneers in the treatment of impaired professionals. The interview was not published until after her death in 2008 per her request. White asked her when those in the field of treatment for substance abuse and addictions began to see physicians (and other professional) as a special treatment population. She replied
“When they started making money in alcoholism. As soon as insurance started covering treatment, suddenly you heard that residential treatment was necessary for almost everybody. And since alcoholic docs had tons of money compared to the rest of the public, they not only needed residential treatment, they needed residential treatment in a special treatment facility for many months as opposed to the shorter periods of time that other people needed.” -Dr. LeClair Bissel
Talbott claimed a “92.3 percent recovery rate according to information compiled from a five-year follow-up survey based on complete abstinence and other treatment.” A 1995 issue of The Federal Bulletin: The Journal of Medical Licensure and Discipline, published by the Federation of State Medical Boards, contains articles outlining impaired physician programs in 8 separate states. Although these articles were methodologically flawed opinion pieces written by program directors of State PHPs and included no described study-design or methodology the FSMB bought their purported 90% success rates hook line and sinker it is at this point an alliance was formed between the FSPHP and FSMB.
Talbott faced no professional repercussions for the multiple suicides at Ridgeview or the fraud. And absolutely no changes in their treatment philosophy were made. They still haven’t. They have simply tightened the noose and taken steps to remove accountability.
Up until his recent death, Talbott continued to present himself and ASAM as the most qualified advocates for the assessment and treatment of medical professionals for substance abuse and addiction.
The ASAM, FSPHP and Like-Minded Docs still do.
In most states today any physician referred for an assessment for substance abuse will be mandated to do so in a facility just like Ridgeview.
There is no choice. In mechanics and mentality, this same system of coercion, control, and indoctrination has metastasized to almost every state only more powerful and opaque in a system that is essentially unregulated, protected from public scrutiny, and accountable to no one. For what they have done is taken the Ridgeview model and replicated it state by state in the the Physician Health Programs under the scaffold of the Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP). The organizations alliance with the FSMB has only gone stronger.
And this directly correlates with the marked rise in physician suicide we are now seeing in the United States.