Ep 92: Substance Use Disorders In Anesthesia Providers With Jack Stem

Substance use can’t be treated without open communication and discussion and that’s what we want to do on this episode. Jack Stem, Peer Assistance Advisor for Ohio, joins the show to share his own personal battle with addiction and how he’s dedicated much of his life to helping others with the same struggles. Find out what you need to know about substance use, why our profession is more vulnerable, and what you can do if someone you know is dealing with an SUD. 

Click the timestamps below to help you navigate through the many topics we discussed.

On This Episode:

Jack Stem is coming up on 25 years clean and sober but it’s taken a lot of work and help to get to this point.

Our listeners in Ohio might know Jack but he’s been the peer assistance advisor for the state’s nurse anesthetists, a position he’s chaired since 2005. We asked him to be a guest on our show because we wanted to bring this topic of substance use disorders out of the shadows and into the light. Too often it’s ignored or kept secret to avoid shame and embarrassment, but we should be looking to help instead.

Jack worked in anesthesia for 14 years before his addiction started. He dealt with a back problem for years until becoming dependent on opiates in 1989 and it took an overdose to confront his issues. He’ll open up on the show to tell his story and the battle he faced for a number of years. It’s especially important to let people know that there is a way through this as evidenced by Jack and his current state of happiness in life.

While this affects people of all professions, nurse anesthetists are more susceptible to substance use than most others because of the combination of stress, exposure, and access. That’s why these peer assistance groups have been formed across the country and why the AANA offers resources through its hotline.

So today we’ll look at substance use disorders and help you understand the causes behind them and how you can identify someone that might be struggling with this. The problem is we don’t often talk about this with anyone, especially within our families despite us knowing that many are genetically-vulnerable to addiction.

This topic is one that hits home for many CRNAs and we want everyone to be aware. There’s help out there and we want people to lean on that to create the lifestyle changes they need. Remember, you’re as sick as your secrets so open up and let them out.

Here are some of the other topics we will cover on the show:

  • How much genetics plays into this disorder.
  • Study that found reasons why this profession is more vulnerable to addiction.
  • Dopamine’s role in addiction
  • What signs tell you someone might have a problem.
  • How to handle it if you suspect someone is using.
  • Resources available
  • Easing your way back into work after recovery.

If you suspect someone is struggling, please call the AANA hotline at 800-654-5167.

Check it out the interview at the top of the page and use the timestamps to help you navigate through the many topics we discussed.

1:42 – Welcome in Jack Stem

2:03 – Background on Jack and what we’re talking about.

4:43 – Jeremy remembers his first kidney stone. 

6:13 – Is this a genetic-based disease?

9:15 – A study that shows why our profession has a higher rate of addiction. 

10:41 – Medications

14:10 – Jack shares his overdose story.

15:50 – Behaviors to look for

16:50 – What to do if you suspect a peer has a problem.

19:41 – Ways people hide the substance abuse?

22:14 – Peer assistance resources available to you.

24:15 – What happens when someone gets caught diverting?

27:49 – Advice for people returning to work after substance use.

31:06 – Contact info

32:32 – Final thoughts from Jack


“If I’m exposed to microscopic amounts over a 10 or 12-year period, and you know how stressful anesthesia can be, it explains why that’s usually the timeframe where people start to become addicted is 10 years or so.”

-Jack Stem

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