The idea that your doctor might be under the influence of drugs when he or she is treating you is a scary thought, but one that may very well be true, as it is estimated that as many as 100,000 medical providers - including doctors, nurses, and medical technicians - are either dependent on or abusing prescription drugs.
Perhaps even more terrifying is that medical professionals have the know-how that allows them to take drugs under the radar, as well as unfettered access to the drugs themselves. For example, in an article posted by USA Today, Anita Bertrand, a nurse anesthetist recalled how she would steal narcotics (“drug diversion”) and even installed an intravenous port in her ankle so that she could more conveniently inject intravenous drugs while on the job. When they mention “the perks of the job,” this is not exactly what anyone wants to imagine.
Bertrand admits that she has no idea if she ever actually made a mistake when she was high while working, but what she does remember is how easy it was to get away with being intoxicated on the job. Narcotics like fentanyl and oxycodone tend to be the most commonly abused drugs of choice amongst medical professionals.
An example wherein a medical professional’s drug abuse did end up putting patients’ lives at risk was brought on by hospital technician David Kwiatkowski. Kwiatkowski was caught injecting patients’ pain medications and then refilling the emptied syringes with saline. Problem is, Kwiatkowski ended up infecting at least 46 patients with hepatitis from the nearly 8,000 patients that he stole from that had to subsequently be tested for hepatitis as a result of Kwiatkowski’s actions.
This is a more prominent example of how a medical professional’s drug abuse can go awry, but even the subtlest of mistakes can prove deadly, such as a botched surgery, an incorrect reading of a patient’s vital signs, or the administering of an improper dosage of medication. This is truly terrifying.
The main problem with this issue is that many in the healthcare field believe that they are immune to this kind of problem and, as a result, support for those who are struggling with addiction is severely limited. While other high-stress jobs are recognized for their potential to contribute to drug addiction, safeguards to both sniff out and prevent drug abuse are rarely employed for jobs in the medical field.
Another problem is that many states simply don’t have rules in place that demand they alert the proper authorities should an employee be caught in the act of stealing or abusing drugs. Instead, the employee is terminated and left to his or her own devices, to find a new job and to cope with his or her drug problem on their own.
Add to that the fact that disciplinary measures, like taking away a medical professional’s license, are rare and are usually only enforced after multiple transgressions have taken place, and it’s easy to understand why the medical field is perhaps the hardest field to control when it comes to drug abuse.