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Report: Addicted Nurses Pose Risks to Patients

A number of publications – USA Today, the News-Leader in Virginia and others – have lately been giving great attention to a serious but often hidden problem in many health care settings: Drug addiction.

A USA Today review indicated on a national scale, more than 100,000 doctors, nurses, medical technicians and health care aides are abusing or are dependent on prescription drugs in any given year. Nursing home facilities are not immune to this crisis, and patient safety and well-being is placed at risk as a result.

In some cases, health care workers are stealing drugs. In other cases, their impairment leaves them unable to do the job properly. One nurse anesthetist who is now a recovering drug addict said she used drugs for years, often on-the-job and without detection by colleagues. She is not aware of any mistakes, but said, “I certainly would not say I was immune to that.”

Our Hollywood nursing home abuse lawyers know patients in elder care facilities would be especially vulnerable because they may not notice or be able to report missing a doses of pain medications or odd behavior by staffers.

To grant an idea of the potential impact, consider the recent New Hampshire case wherein a hospital technician was injecting herself with patient pain medications via syringe and then refiling those syringes with saline. This was bad enough, but the worker was infected with hepatitis C. Some 8,000 people had to be tested for the disease after her years-long actions were discovered. More than four dozen were found to have been infected.

That case was a rarity, though, in that most cases go unreported or unnoticed completely. USA Today reported most health care facilities – including nursing homes – have few if any oversight plans necessary to uncover and remedy drug addictions suffered by health care workers.

Some blame the enormous levels of stress health care workers endure, coupled with long hours and emotional stresses. These may not prompt addiction, but they certainly don’t help.

The most recent research from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration was released in 2007. Even then, it was indicated some 103,000 health care workers were struggling with abuse or dependence on illicit drugs. This is actually a low estimated, with other researchers suggesting the figures are closer to the ratio cited in the general population: 1 in 10. That’s a scary thought when considering the number of workers it takes to provide full-time care to vulnerable elderly patients in nursing home settings.

Even in cases where abuse has been caught and sanctioned by an employer, there may be nothing stopping a practitioner from simply securing an out-of-state license and practicing there. In one case detailed by the News-Leader, a nursing home nurse was reportedly addicted to drugs for years, but was only fired after climbing on top of a patient and pinning him with her body to wrestle his pain medications out of his hand. Even then, her Florida license to practice was reinstated after she underwent education and counseling.

Even knowing the kinds of potential patient abuse and errors that can occur when a health care provider is impaired, not many facilities routinely drug test workers. Such tests are expensive and time-consuming. However, they may be necessary to protect patients.

If a nursing home patient is harmed by a health care worker under the influence, loved ones should immediately contact an experienced Hollywood injury lawyer.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Doctors, medical staff on drugs put patients at risk, April 17, 2014, By Peter Eisler, USA Today

More Blog Entries:

Mattox v. Life Centers of America – Nursing Home Falls a Sign of Neglect, Dec. 3, 2014, Hollywood Nursing home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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