Doctors and other health care workers are addicted to drugs in the same proportion as the general population, around 10 to 14 percent. However, it is important to note that among medical professionals, it is emergency room workers, anesthesiologists, and psychiatrists who are much more likely to abuse drugs.
Shouldn’t they know better? And what makes members of these three specialties particularly vulnerable? The issue is an important one. Caregivers hooked on drugs could be causing serious harm to the patients entrusted to their care.
Doctors And Nurses Hooked On Drugs
One obvious answer to why these medical professionals might be more likely to abuse and get hooked on drugs is access. A recent news story outlined the case of a nurse and a doctor in the same medical center abusing painkillers and sedatives meant for patients.
Both worked at the University of Michigan medical center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The nurse, working in the intensive care unit, died from an overdose on fentanyl (a powerful opioid painkiller) and midazolam (a sedative). Both are given to patients being anesthetized for surgery. The doctor, a resident in anesthesiology, overdosed on fentanyl, but survived because he was found and revived.
The news story makes it clear that doctors and nurses working in hospitals, and particularly those working in anesthesiology, have easy access to the drugs that patients need, but which can be abused as well. Access, however, may not be the only answer. Some experts investigating the issue believe that certain types of people may be more drawn to work in anesthesiology, psychiatry and emergency medicine, and that these people have a more intense interest in drugs and addiction than others.
Problems That Addicted Health Care Professionals Cause Patients
Whatever the reasons are that can explain the higher rates of drug abuse and addiction among certain doctors and nurses, the fact remains that the issue is causing harm to patients and the rate of abuse among these professionals is only rising. One major concern is the spread of disease.
Doctors and nurses abusing drugs intended for patients often inject the patient, then themselves, and then the patient again. In this way, the abuser can get away with taking some of the drug from the patient without anyone noticing. Recent stories, such as the technician who infected dozens of patients with hepatitis C in this manner, highlight the issue.
In addition to the problem of infection, there is the issue of patients not getting all of the drugs they need. The practice of sharing meds with patients is called drug diversion, and it means that the patient, who actually needs the sedative or painkiller, or both, is not receiving a full dose. The consequences of diversion could include discomfort and pain for the patient, or even more serious outcomes.
The stories that have made the news about infecting patients and overdosing medical caregivers should highlight the major problem that is growing in hospitals around the country. More and more doctors, nurses and medical technicians are diverting drugs from patients, becoming addicts, and causing harm both to themselves and the people they serve. In order to correct the problem, action needs to be taken.
More careful regulation of the amounts of drugs used in hospitals is important, as is the monitoring of the administration of those drugs to patients. And most of all, it is important that drug abuse and addiction be taken seriously and recognized as real problems and addiction as a real disease.
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