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Prescription Drug Addiction in Medical Community Puts Patients at Risk

Prescription Drug Addiction in Medical Community Puts Patients at Risk“Drug diversion” (the act of stealing drugs) is becoming increasingly more common among the health care profession – an industry that struggles with prescription drug abuse. A report published by USA Today finds that on any given year, an estimated 100,000 nurses, doctors and other medical workers are dependent on prescription medications – particularly highly addictive narcotics such as fentanyl and oxycodone.

This shocking example of doctor negligence endangers the lives of thousands of patients annually. Part of the problem, which has been tied to infectious disease outbreaks and other life-altering scenarios, is the fact that medical providers who steal or abuse drugs seldom get caught.

One 49-year-old nurse anesthetist told King 5 News, “I was absolutely impaired, using narcotics while working. … And no one ever noticed…Did I make mistakes? I don’t know, and that’s the scary part. I’m not aware of any, but I certainly would not say I was immune to that.”

Drug abuse and doctor negligence

Surgeons, medical technicians, anesthesiologists and other health care professionals who are abusing drugs on the job are at greater risk for making surgical mistakes, administering incorrect doses of medications, or overlooking a crucial symptom that may lead to misdiagnosis.

Take the case of David Kwiatkowski, a hospital technician who infected nearly 50 New Hampshire patients with Hepatitis C, after he injected himself with his patients’ narcotics and then covered his tracks by refilling the syringes with saline. His drug diversion jeopardized the health of many, and ultimately led to the testing of more than 8,000 patients across eight different states.

Lauren Lollini, a patient who contracted Hepatitis C from an outbreak, says “Drug diversion affects so many people, and the systems for dealing with it are completely broken.”

Data analyzed by USA Today suggests that prescription drug abuse among the medical community is a pervasive problem, affecting some 1 out of every 10 professionals at some point in their careers. Besides stealing the drugs, physicians often resort to forging their own prescriptions to help satisfy their habit.

Prescription drug diversion puts patients at risk

Compounding the issue is that most hospitals, clinics and nursing homes fail to require regular drug tests for its staff, and also lack high-tech solutions to monitor the whereabouts and use of narcotics and other dangerous drugs. Those who are caught abusing may not be disciplined or have their licenses revoked immediately, as it usually takes several adverse incidents to prompt such action. Even doctors who recognize their own problem and enroll in drug rehab can often keep treating patients during the process.

Additionally, there is no national database that tracks the misconduct or transgressions of medical technicians such as Kwiatkowski — who had a long history of drug diversion — as there are for nurses and physicians.

The U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Kwiatkowski says that “To protect the patient, there has to be a law enforcement component.”  Attorney Kacavas is just one of many advocating for laws that would oblige hospitals and medical facilities to caution authorities when a staff member is found stealing drugs or working under the influence.

In an effort to better control prescription drug theft and abuse, the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville mandated new reporting systems and installed video cameras, which found at least one medical worker stealing meds each month.

However, disciplinary measures are few and far between, according to information from the National Practitioner Data Bank. Between 2010 and 2013, only 750 doctors throughout the country had their licenses restricted/revoked or lost hospital privileges due to transgressions from drug abuse.