Regardless of how many scientists and researchers and organizations claim that drug addiction is a disease of the brain, people still associate drug addiction with character flaws and moral failings. These people are outcasts and shunned. This is not the case with just the general population it is also true of doctors, physicians and nurses too. The difference is that they have to try to conceal the way that they feel because they are held to a higher standard.
What happens though when the tables are turned and you suspect that a physician you work for or a fellow nurse is using illicit drugs or abusing prescription meds? After all, they are only human and consider the enormous amount of stress that these people work under. They need an outlet too. Their hours are insidiously long with swing shifts and mandatory overtime. They have easy access to various drugs. This is the perfect environment to give birth to addiction.
Nearly 22 million Americans suffer from drug and alcohol addiction, according to the 2005 healthypeople.gov substance abuse report. That was seven years ago and the numbers have only increased since. The reasons that people abuse drugs and alcohol are numerous. Some do it to cope with stresses of work, family or personal issues while others do it to mask emotional pain. Health care workers have the same propensity to addiction that anyone else has.
It would be a wise assumption, if it were true, that when someone in the healthcare field succumbs to addiction that they would be one of the first to seek help. Unfortunately, it is not the case. These people are also able to conceal their problem better than most. But, if you know what to look for it can often be obvious.
The warning signs are a bit different than the average addict
Look for long breaks, working odd hours, and patients that seem to regularly complain about still being in pain after pain medication has been administered. Even if it is suspected, what can be done with no proof?
The New York State’s Nursing Association has upped the bar in regards to this. Nurses must sign and acknowledge that they know what constitutes appropriate/inappropriate nursing capacities, i.e. lifestyle choices, drug/alcohol use before and during working hours. If they are suspected of breaching the protocol then they will submit to a drug-test and depending on the results must forfeit their licensing while in treatment.