Hospital setting triggers worker drug abuse, theft

More than 100,000 medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, medical technicians and aides, either abuse prescription drugs or are addicted to them, according to USA Today.

Medical personnel's access to and knowledge of prescription drugs makes "drug diversion"--the official term for drug theft--harder to detect, but also poses huge risks for them and for patients. For example, hospital technician David Kwiatowski infected at least 46 patients with hepatitis after injecting himself with patients' pain medicine and refilling the syringes with saline. This was the third hepatitis outbreak linked to worker use of patient syringes in 2009, with the other two occurring in Denver and Jacksonville, Fla., and federal records indicate hundreds of healthcare workers were disciplined or prosecuted for drug diversion or similar misconduct, according to the article.  

The high-stress environment of healthcare work not only lends itself to a higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse, it makes it difficult for workers struggling with drug abuse to seek help. "The medical community thinks it's immune from this disease, but that's not true," Anita Bertrand, a nurse anesthetist in Houston who became addicted to pain medication, told USA Today. "There are so many practitioners working impaired and we have no idea...We're doing a terrible job addressing this problem."

A 2013 commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association called for hospitals to randomly test physicians for drug and alcohol abuse. Unlike other high-risk industries, such as airlines, railways or nuclear power, organizations don't test physicians for substances following an adverse event. An article last August by NYU Langone Medical Center's Director of Division of Medical Ethics offered a similar argument, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the USA Today article