More than 100,000 physicians, nurses, techs and other healthcare employees are drug addicts, according to federal data. Those are just the known cases. Studies estimate that 1 in 10 healthcare workers have suffered from substance abuse during their lives.
The issue of impaired providers, along with the drug diversion that often fuels their addictions and the risks it places on their unwitting patients, is complicated by the lack of a consistent and effective response, according to a feature story in the April 16 edition of USA Today.
"Much of the damage goes unnoticed or undocumented; systems to detect, report and address drug problems in health care settings are haphazard and limited," the article notes.
While the cases of some impaired practitioners and oxycodone- or fentanyl-thieving employees have made high-profile headlines, on-the-job substance abuse doesn't always manifest itself in infectious outbreaks, investigations, prosecutions and discipline. Sometimes it goes undetected and results in isolated medical mistakes, medication errors or missed warnings.
Drug-testing regulations and the prescribed response to offenders vary from state to state, the article points out, which opens the door for impaired employees finding work elsewhere without a mark on their records. Additionally, as described in the stories of practitioners who have undergone rehabilitation, the path to professional assistance and recovery is strewn with pitfalls.