Drug abuse by healthcare workers

By Zack Budryk

In such a high-stress work environment, and with easy access to prescription drugs, it's no wonder that more than 100,000 doctors, nurses, medical technicians and aides abuse or are addicted to them. 

Obviously drug abuse and addiction will hurt individual workers' performances, but they hurt patient safety in other ways as well. Last December, David Kwiatkowski was sentenced to 39 years in prison after his theft of patients' pain medicine infected as many as 45 patients across the country with hepatitis C.

Part of what makes drug abuse and theft among healthcare workers a continual problem is they often don't seek help for their problem. "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."

Experts say hospitals and physician practices should develop policies that proactively address alcohol and drug abuse, according to FiercePracticeManagement, such as provider expectations for standards of care and procedures for reporting deficiencies without the threat of retaliation. Given the risks to patient safety, others have argued that hospitals should conduct drug tests on all doctors and nurses after adverse events.

Drug abuse by healthcare workers