Rehab programs let addicted nurses seek help, keep jobs

Up to 15 percent of nurses in the United States have a substance abuse disorder and many states offer programs that allow them to detox without losing their careers, according to Newsworks.

Florida pioneered such programs in the 1980s, reasoning that nurses would not seek help for substance abuse issues if they risked their jobs by doing so. Therefore, a rehab option that allows nurses to stay in scrubs is safer for both nurses and their patients. Forty-one states, including New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, now offer such programs, according to the article.

The programs have strict terms, including three to five years of mandatory drug testing (which physicians from Johns Hopkins University recommend for physicians as well) and weekly meetings. Participants suspend their nursing licenses and pay for the treatment with a fee to get it back. Details vary from state to state. For example, New Jersey's Recovery and Monitoring Program (RAMP), requires that participants "do a presentation to their peer groups and request to go back to work," said RAMP Director Suzanne Kinkel. "They will call them out on their... 'stuff' is a nice way of saying it."

Kinkel said last year 73 percent of participants in the program remained until the end of the year, a far higher success rate than most 12-step programs. In Florida, the retention rate is more than 80 percent, according to the article.

Another reason states consider a second chance to be the best option is the country's nearly century-long nursing shortage. Nurse turnover is a financial burden as well; research found losing just one nurse can cost hospitals up to $64,000, according to the article.  

To get healthcare workers with substance abuse problems the help they need, hospital leaders should look for several red flags, including changes in behavior, unexplained absences and complaints from patients that their pain medication is not working, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

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