Having an addiction while working in the medical industry can increase your chances of your addiction growing worse. You are constantly surrounded by painkillers and other drugs intended to help patients, but also present the temptation of giving you a feeling of euphoria. The true story below of a nurse who went into recovery can provide hope to others in the medical field who may be struggling with addiction.
A nurse who calls herself Samantha had been a nurse for two years before her substance abuse began. After starting with pills, she moved to an intravenous opiate since it was a stronger medication. She felt that her medical knowledge would protect her from any danger. The first time she took a controlled substance home from the hospital was an accident. Samantha found a leftover amount of IV pain medication in her pocket. She put the medication in her medicine cabinet with no clue what to do with it. She kept the medicine for a week before taking an insulin needle and injecting herself with the medicine out of curiosity. As the medication hit her bloodstream, Samantha felt like all of her pain was disappearing. This was just the beginning.
Because the population of those in the medical field who abuse drugs are the same as the general population, according to Carrie Kappel, RN of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, more is done at hospitals to create preventative measures for addiction among hospital workers. Most hospitals require fingerprint scanning and codes to gain access to medications from a Pyxis machine, where there are usually cameras. A second nurse is supposed to witness and sign off that the appropriate amount of medication was drawn up and any excessive medications were discarded.
The problem is that nursing stations can be understaffed, meaning they may not always have the available time or personnel to have someone on standby to watch this protocol from beginning to end. Medical professionals also find their way around protocol by giving their patients smaller doses of medication than what has been ordered, enabling them to save the remainder for themselves. Because substances are well-controlled and monitored, someone would have to do something deceptive, illegal, or inappropriate for medication access.
Samantha continued her substance abuse while on the job for years at two different hospitals in two different states before getting caught. A nursing colleague who was suspicious of her alerted her nurse manager and opened an investigation against her. Before the investigation was completed, Samantha resigned, but the Board of Nursing was still notified. Samantha was allowed to keep her license under a number of conditions, but she ultimately decided to give it up. Because Samantha was struggling with depression, she did not feel like it was worth it to pay expensive fees for treatment in order to keep her license. Despite everything, Samantha was never subjected to random drug tests.
Most hospitals test potential staff before hiring them, but those individuals are typically clean at the time. There is a lot to consider with random drug testing, like who you are testing (and why), when it will be done, and how much it will be. It may be a complicated issue, as any susceptibility of a staff member’s drug use leads to investigations into patient records to ensure that no harm has been done. This takes time and money, and requires access to private files. For these reasons, many medical professionals feel it makes sense to do testing only when there is a reason to. However, Samantha believes random drug testing can be beneficial for the patients and may uncover potential drug abuse earlier on. She argues that service members are required to be tested for the safety of our country, so the same needs to be said for hospital staff.
There are many hospital healthcare systems that have wellness programs to help staff who have substance abuse problems. Hospital staff first need to admit that they have a problem. There is an ongoing threat of losing their license and ability to practice if they reveal their addiction. Even if they do get help, they do not like the idea of being closely monitored. This was Samantha’s greatest fear—she had grown up in a poor area, gone through college, and ultimately made the majority of friends at her workplace. She did not want to destroy everything she had worked so hard for.
Samantha noticed that management did not care if staff members had a disease like diabetes that affected their work performance, but individuals with an addiction or a mental illness did not receive the same type of treatment. Removing the stigma of addiction is the best way to help hospital staff feel comfortable about admitting they have a problem. Staff may be more likely to come forward if hospitals were able to remove the threat of revoking their license.
Several years after losing her license, Samantha is now sober and embarking on a new career path. She got married, had a child, learned how to function in her everyday life, and is now happily working in the corporate world. Samantha is still in the process of forgiving herself for her past mistakes and rebuilding her self-esteem. In addition to shedding light on some things that need to be improved in the hospital setting regarding addiction, Samantha’s story can help others learn to never give up on trying to rebuild themselves.
Located on the shore of Southern New Jersey, Enlightened Solutions is a recovery center that uses evidence-based therapies and holistic healing to treat addiction and mental illness. With the opportunity to learn about therapies that are keyed in to healing the human spirit and learning about new stress-reducing techniques centered around a 12-step network, you will ensure a lasting recovery. For more information, please call us today at 833-801-LIVE. We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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