Too Few of Wisconsin’s Addicted Nurses Getting Treatment
You would think that people who are trained in the medical field – doctors, nurses, technicians, and so on – would have a greater understanding than the man on the street of the dangers of prescription drugs. But some studies show that the number of addicts in the medical profession is roughly the same as in the general public. Many states offer addiction treatment for healthcare workers, but in Wisconsin, along with some other states, not many addicts are trying to get treatment. And it’s causing dangerous situations with patients.
“I was dangerous, for sure,” said nurse Ann Stanton, a former addict, in a recent interview. “I was high, and I was definitely impaired.”
How would you like to be in a hospital in her care? I certainly wouldn’t appreciate it – being in the hospital is dangerous enough. But about 10 percent of the people who treat you could well be in her condition, or worse.
Ann’s addiction started, she said, when a patient in her care died. She felt responsible for the patient’s death and to ‘cope with’ her guilt, she stole the medication that was supposed to be given to a different patient and took it herself.
So, not only was she getting ‘impaired’ and risking patients’ lives by being in that condition, she was also stealing her patients’ drugs so they didn’t get the treatment they needed – which could also be dangerous.
Ann continued treating patients while impaired, stealing drugs from patients, and maybe from other areas of the hospital, for the next six months. She didn’t get the help she needed – even though it was available to her.
She was finally forced to get treatment when she was caught in a bathroom injecting some of the hospital’s drugs.
Why Don’t Some Addicted Nurses Get Treatment?
Addiction treatment for healthcare workers in hospitals in available in almost every state, although the programs in each state are not the same. In some cases, a nurse or other healthcare worker’s addiction could be exposed and put on record, he or she may be suspended, may lose their job altogether, and may even lose their license.
That is the case in Wisconsin, which Ann tried to avoid.
However, if one doesn’t want those problems but wants to address their addiction, they usually have the option of private treatment. No one knows the nurse is doing it, and there are no consequences, but the nurse is being responsible for ensuring her patients’ lives are not in danger.
In Ann’s case, when asked why she didn’t turn herself in to the treatment programs available, she said she was deterred by the possibility of ‘punishment,’ loss of her job, and the ‘stigma’.
- I’m not certain what she means by punishment, but I would think she’s referring to the possibility of suspension. Personally, I don’t see that as punishment – taking her off the job in order to protect the patients isn’t punishment for her, it’s just removing her from an environment where she could hurt, and even kill, her patients.
- As for losing her job, if someone can’t cope with a job that involves taking care of sick and injured people every day – some of whom will be in very bad shape, and some of whom will die – then it’s possible that that’s the wrong job for them.
- ‘Stigma’, which Ann was also concerned about, basically amounts to one’s reputation. It’s true that there’s still a lot of stigma associated with drug addiction or alcoholism. But there is no doubt a lot more stigma to suffer through is one kills one’s patients.
I’d like to know others’ viewpoints about this. Do you think a medical practitioner or healthcare worker who became an addict and, as such, became a danger to his or her patients should be allowed to stay on the job and keep their license? Do you think that if they’re currently under treatment that info should be revealed to their patients?
What do you think is the correct way to handle this situation?