The problem of abuse of controlled substances and addiction to prescription drugs is wide-spread in the United States. People who abuse and/or are addicted to prescription medications come from all walks of life. Health care professionals are in that group. These are people are entrusted with our well-being, yet health care professionals are as likely as any other person to become an addict.
Even though the vast majority of DEA registered practitioners follow all the rules and regulations regarding controlled substances, there are some drug-impaired health care professionals on the job right now. They have access to controlled substances and some will abuse these drugs for reasons such as relief from stress, self-medication, or to improve their alertness and their work performance.
If you are a health care professional and you suspect a colleague is abusing or diverting controlled drugs what are your responsibilities? Your main responsibility is to the public – the people who you are caring for. As a health care professional, it is your obligation to protect the society from drug abuse. Also, as a health care professional, you have a responsibility to prescribe medication appropriately.
How can you tell if a colleague is drug impaired? The signs of addiction are the same for any co-worker, but it is particularly important to watch for the signs in fellow health care professionals as they are responsible for caring for you. Things to watch for are:
- An increase in absenteeism
- The addicted individual may spend a lot of time near a drug supply
- The person my be absent from work for long periods of time and come back with improbabl3 excuses
- They may take frequent long trips to the bathroom or frequent to the stockroom where drugs are located
- They may suddenly become unreliable in keeping appointments or meeting deadlines
- Their work performance may fluctuate between periods of high productivity and low productivity
- The person exhibits difficulty in completing simple tasks, may have difficulty in concentrating or recalling details and instructions
- They may make bad decisions based on poor judgment
- The person may insist on personal administration of drugs to a patient
- They display deterioration in charting and in handwriting
- They display deterioration in personal appearance
- The person exhibits mood swings, depression, anxiety or lack of impulse control
- Patients and staff complain about the person changing behavior or attitudes
- The person is increasingly isolated both personally and professionally
Too often, health care professionals neglect dealing with addiction problems of their colleagues. They are reluctant to speak out for fear the person may become angered and seek retribution or there is a far the person may lose their professional practice. Many times, employers or co-workers end up being enablers of health care professionals who are impaired by substance abuse. The abuser is given a lighter work load, their excessive absences are overlooked and excuses are made for their poor performance.
Many well-educated highly trained and experience health care professionals lose their families, careers and futures to substance abuse. If you suspect a colleague is abusing drugs, then take action to help preserve their life and their lifestyle. There are many fine drug rehabilitation facilities in the county. The Williamsburg Place and the Farley Center can help if you suspect a colleague is abusing controlled substances. Give the folks at The Williamsburg Place and the Farley Center a call at (877) 389-4968 to learn how you can approach a colleague to get them the help they desperately need.