Healthcare Professionals and Drug Addiction: It’s Time For A National Conversation
Health care professionals, such as doctors and nurses, experience the same risk of developing an addiction as the general population and are at higher risk for addictive behaviors involving controlled substances like opioids. So why are the risks higher for addiction in healthcare workers? Two reasons: access and drug diversion.
Those working in a healthcare facility have direct access to medications, and they can easily use this access to obtain controlled substances. The most common way a healthcare worker will access drugs is through drug diversion or when a worker diverts controlled substances, like opiates, away from patients for personal use or sale. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) states, “Even though the vast majority of registered practitioners comply with the controlled substances law and regulations in a law-abiding manner, you should be aware of the fact that drug-impaired health professionals are one source of controlled substances diversion. Many have easy access to controlled substance medications; and some will divert and abuse these drugs for reasons such as relief from stress, self-medication, or to improve work performance and alertness.”
Other than job stress, fatigue, self-medication, and enhanced productivity, another reason a medical professional may abuse substances is their deep understanding of the effects these medications have on an individual. This knowledge may motivate them to try to replicate these sensations in themselves to produce a high. Overall, drug diversion and substance misuse jeopardizes health care providers’ lives and jobs, increases the potential of workplace accidents, and threatens patient safety.
How To Recognize if a Healthcare Co-Worker is Using Substances
Here are some common signs to watch out for when a co-worker may be using substances:
- Frequent disappearances from the work area and taking frequent/long trips to the bathroom or to the room where drugs are stocked.
- Unreliability in work duties and meeting deadlines.
- Increased “wastage” of drugs as well as sloppy record keeping and drug shortages.
- Suffering from frequent mistakes made due to poor judgment and bad decisions.
- Difficulty concentrating or confusion when recalling details and instructions.
- Relationships with colleagues and patients suffer and deterioration in personal appearance, hygiene.
- Excessive absenteeism or absences without notification and an excessive number of sick days used.
- Inappropriate prescriptions for large narcotic doses.
- Increased persistence on personal administration of injected narcotics to patients.
- Personality changes such as anxiety, depression, and mood swings.
Due to harsh disciplinary actions such as license suspension, revocation, or being red-flagged on a work record, many doctors and nurses will not seek treatment in an effort to hide the addiction. So what is being done to reduce drug diversion and substance use/addiction issues, and how can hospitals help healthcare workers get the support they need?
Changing The Conversation, Getting Support, and Prevention
Hospitals and healthcare facilities are realizing the need to proactively monitor and eradicate drug diversion as well as prevent substance use in the workplace. Some states have passed laws that require hospitals to establish procedures and protocols for the prevention, detection, and resolution of substance abuse in their facilities. But what about the healthcare worker and getting support for their substance use disorder or addiction? Many healthcare organizations offer alternative treatment programs instead of drastic actions such as termination, making it easier for healthcare professionals to admit they have a problem, reduce stigma, and get the treatment they need.
Additionally, when employers support drug rehabilitation and detox programs, it motivates healthcare workers to commit to their sobriety and recovery and the healthcare facility has an opportunity to keep an experienced and valued worker. A majority of states are also offering some form of a substance use treatment program to direct nurses to treatment, monitor their re-entry to work, and continue their license according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Stress reduction and wellness programs are also being encouraged and implemented directly in healthcare settings or offered as part of a benefits package such as:
- Mindful meditation courses
- Employee assistance programs offering free counseling and support
- Exercise and fitness classes
- Healthy eating programs
- Guided imagery classes
- Stress reduction workshops
These classes and workshops can significantly help reduce burn-out and prevent healthcare professionals from abusing substances both in and out of the workplace.
Substance Use Disorders, Addiction, and Treatment
If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance use problem, there is hope. Substance use disorders or addiction is treatable, and recovery is possible. Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, productive, and enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to get help, contact us today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.