Attack the Issue of Drug Abuse in Healthcare
The existence of drug abuse and addiction in the U.S. isn't news. We've seen the broadcasts, read the stories on social media, and heard the rumors among family and friends. We know addiction is a widespread problem. But are we aware of the degree to which we, as nurses, are at risk? The media is just beginning to pick up on the breadth of the issue of substance abuse among healthcare professionals. Those who suffer from this sickness often fall under the radar for several reasons.
- Drugs abused in healthcare settings are not strictly illegal — rather, they are usually opioids prescribed for pain management.
- Healthcare workers can more easily access these drugs.
- The symptoms are not always easy to recognize.
- Those who suffer from these addictions are hesitant to come forward for fear they might lose their jobs.
- Day-to-day stresses may cause nurses to overlook symptoms that might otherwise be obvious.
So let's attack this topic head-on. Addiction to prescription drugs can have a measurable effect on job performance, leading to the compromised safety of patients at your facility. Fortunately, as facilities across the country are becoming more aware of this issue, help and resources are becoming more readily available for those suffering from addiction — some without the risk of job loss or imprisonment.
Identifying the problem
What can you do to help identify at-risk colleagues and direct them to the resources they need? The first step is to identify the problem. A common strategy employed by nurses to obtain prescription drugs is through the use of drug diversion. According to an article in the American Journal of Nursing, some telltale signs that one of your co-workers may be using drug diversion include sporadic or inconsistent work attendance, unusually frequent trips to use the restroom, complaints of pain from their patients who have been prescribed pain relievers, and wasted or missing drugs, particularly those that have been signed out to patients who have already been discharged. When these situations are caught early enough, other resources are often available that do not include termination and many employees may be permitted to enter treatment with pay and benefits still intact. According to the article, approximately 40 states have alternative programs in place that do not involve disciplinary action; this spells hope for those exhibiting signs of drug addiction. Do you know someone who is struggling with addiction? Health Providers Choice has resources to get nurses back on track. Visit our website to peruse articles, journals, and nursing organizations that can be helpful in combatting this well-known struggle.