Healthcare workers addicted to prescription drugs is an ongoing issue in the U.S and worldwide. More than 100,000 doctors, nurses, medical technicians and health care aides are abusing or dependent on prescription drugs in any given year in the U.S alone.
Nurses are especially susceptible to drug addiction because of the availability of narcotics and the mentality of “It can’t happen to me,” and ‘I can control myself because I’m a nurse.”
Unfortunately, this mentality has devastating effects on them and their families. Often nurses become addicted to pain medication when chronic pain arises, or they undergo surgery. Once addicted, if they don’t seek help, often they will begin to divert narcotics from patients, or steal them from the Pyxis.
Sadly, a high number of addicted nurses are caught diverting drugs and therefore lose their licenses. I’ve known nurses that have overdosed as a direct result of their addiction…feeling lost with nowhere to turn.
Nurses have an uncanny way of disguising addiction while working. They know the signs of an addict and what others may look for. They can have the ability to work while impaired and seldom get noticed.
Many state boards of nursing have implemented “alternative to disciplinary action.” These programs usually involve a 3-5 year commitment and require the nurse to attend AA/NA meetings, agree to random drug screens, attend inpatient or outpatient therapy and obtain a sponsor. Depending on the particular board of nursing, there may also be requirements to undergo evaluations by trained medical and mental health professionals. As a participant in the program, boards will usually allow nurses to continue to work, but under close supervision. The supervisor will be asked to submit monthly reports. Generally, once a nurse has completed one of these programs, her license will not reflect disciplinary action.
Advice for impaired nurses
These programs are strict and require the nurse to be very dedicated to keeping their license. If you are facing disciplinary action on your license, you should ALWAYS hire an attorney. Find one in your state that specializes in nurse disciplinary action, and knows the steps you need to take to get your license back in good standing. You worked hard for your license, don’t give up on it.
The number one thing you need to remember is that the board of nursing is NOT your friend. They are patient advocates only, and will give you the rope to hang yourself if you allow them to. NEVER speak to the board of nursing without an attorney present. Tell them you are going to hire an attorney and he/she will speak for you. It could mean the difference between the board revoking your license or 2 years in the alternative program. Even if the board has decided to allow you into the “alternative to discipline program,” an attorney can negotiate the terms for you.
You have dedicated your life to the care of others, and it can sometimes feel as if no one cares about you when you need help. But there is help out there:
Contact your local NA and AA for help and resources. There are also programs set up just for nurses, Google them. Get a nurse sponsor, who understands what you’re going through and can help.
If you have strong religious convictions, you may find NA or AA helpful. Although they claim they’re not faith based, there “12 step program,” is fundamentally faith based. If you are not religious you may want to avoid these groups and there are other options. Speak to your attorney about your concerns, because the board may not approve of other recovery programs. If permitted SMART is an excellent choice and even has a group specifically for medical professionals:
You can reach them at: www.smartrecovery.org.
If you, or anyone you know is facing this type of crisis we are happy to announce that instead of airing your business online, to nurses who will shun your, or the board of nursing, we now have a PRIVATE group that is only available to nurses with addictions or those in recovery. The group operates much like Facebook and once you have been accepted into the group you;ll have access to other member who are, (or have) experienced the same situations as you. You can add friends, (within the group), private message them, use the special forums and if you’re in recovery you can help others with advice. We believe that we can make a difference if we stick together and help on another through these difficult times. There has never been a group specially designed just for nurses with impairment issues, we are proud to say that we are the first!