It’s a sad reality that members of the healthcare community are not immune to the perils of drug abuse. Last month the spotlight was turned on a disturbing situation in Virginia where hundreds of nurses have been disciplined for abusing painkillers and other medications.
Reporters and staff at the News Leader, a paper in Staunton, VA, conducted a year-long investigation where they studied the records of nursing infractions dating from 2007 to mid-2013. They discovered that more than 2,300 of the state’s 134,000 nurses had faced disciplinary action. Out of that number, 900 cases involved drug-related infractions.
Compounding the problem is the fact that the abuse can result in danger to others. Some of the nurses turn to theft of patient medications to feed their growing addiction. The News Leader report cited the example of a nurse who would remove drug patches from patients and scrape the narcotics off before replacing them.
Patti Dean is one of the nurses who was disciplined when her addiction to painkillers led to cocaine use. She lost and regained her license twice, but alarmingly continued to practice nursing throughout that time period.
The News Leader also found that Virginia does not run criminal background checks on applicants for a nursing license, nor does it perform random drug tests. There are no consequences for employers who fail to report drug-addicted nurses, who are often able to return to work quickly without effectively addressing their problem.
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