Elvis Presley, Brittany Murphy, Marilyn Monroe, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston…What do all these people have in common apart from being famous in the film or music industry? The answer to this question is simple: drug addiction to some extent caused their deaths. But one thing is when you are overusing some medical substances, and you are a star from the fame avenue, and the other thing is when you are working in healthcare and you are being caught red-handed while using drugs.
What do we generally understand by a phrase drug addiction? It means “to have a continuing desire for drugs based on psychic or physical need” (Goldberg, 2010). In reality, it is much more complicated than this plain definition. Drug addiction is actually “a kind of a chronic, relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual. How does this “illness” develop? The thing is that drugs contain the chemicals that tap into the brain’s communication system and disrupt the way nerve cells normally to send, receive and process the information. Two main ways in which drugs cause the disruption are: (1) by imitating brain’s natural chemical messages and (2) by over-stimulating the “reward circuit” of the brain (Goldberg, 2010). So, now it is clear that quitting drugs may be not as easy as it sounds in all these slogans around us. And the inability of a person to do this in the first place is not connected to the lack of his or her willpower or moral principles. Drugs change the brain of an abuser and make a treatment complicated to accomplish.
Why some doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers start to imclude into drugs
Now, when we have figured out how this “disease” develops, we are going to discover why some doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers start to indulge into drugs. As a famous TV character Dr. Gregory House, an excellent diagnostician and Vicodin addict, once said that, “Pills let me do my job and they take away my pain” (House, 2008). It may sound as an excuse, but when it comes to understanding the person living in the constant pain endurance, who are we to judge? Another thing is the fact that this drug addict is a doctor. How does this happen? How do health care providers turn into addicted self-destructors themselves? Can this process of falling into addiction of being reversed? Another thing of a major concern here is that the essential information on health from the time TV shows is easily remembered by the audience. So what do the viewers learn from Dr. House? They come to know that Vicodin is not such a scary drug, as real doctors may state, and that it has no substantial detrimental effects on our health. Another Dr. House, not a TV show character, but a real physician, accentuates in his article on the fact that Vicodin causes the development of a rapidly progressive hearing loss, which leads to the permanent total deafness. He provides an example, a story of his patient, Shannon, who had been prescribed Vicodin for a back trauma by her first doctor. The doctor she was meeting went on giving more Vicodin for a term of more than a year. Finally, the patient was eating 40-50 Vicodin tablets daily. As she described it, she started from never eating any tablets to being a full addict. Moreover, after some period of time she had lost her hearing ability and felt completely isolated (House, 2008). The story of this woman encouraged House MD producers to accentuate on terrific consequences of the drug abuse in one of the subsequent episodes. But did this action help to eradicate the problems to the full? No. Doctors and nurses being indulged into drugs continue to do it.
The current trend in drug addiction among workers of a medical industry
The current trend has not changed sufficiently during the last decade. The cases of abuse, drug stealing, forging prescriptions and testing positive on drug screens, as well as coming to work impaired, are very frequent among nurses in the hospitals of the US and Great Britain. Morphine, Demerol, hydrocodone, phenobarbital and various kinds of benzodiazepines are being stolen by them in large amounts from hospitals. There are numerous cases involving medical workers being tested positive for illegal street drugs like cocaine and marijuana. Narcotic prescriptions from several physicians are not a one-time thing among healthcare providers. Generally, illegally obtaining the narcotic prescriptions is being done through (a) stealing prescription, (b) forging physician’s name and (c) stealing medications. Thus, if this situation will not change sufficiently over the next couple of years, a proper patient care will remain in jeopardy (Leonard, 2008). The irony of the situation lies in the fact that healthcare providers, who are responsible for relieving pain and treating illnesses, are placing their own patients in danger. “In one case, an anesthesiologist in Pennsylvania admitted he stole patient anesthetics, thus subjecting patients to agonizing pain on the operating table. These thefts fed his drug addiction. He pled guilty for felony charges of acquiring drugs under false pretenses, to theft of drugs and burglary, and to 16 counts of assault for his role in operations on 12 patients” (Colling, 2001).
“It is well known among healthcare security administrators that a great number of employees in healthcare facilities have purposely selected the facility with the intent of diverting drugs. The ease with which doctors and nurses can obtain drugs contributes significantly to the problem. In fact, today’s healthcare facilities are a major source of the nation’s drug traffic involving legally manufactured drugs. This is especially a problem in the area of barbiturates and amphetamines” (Colling, 2001).
Judging from the above mentioned facts, it is obvious that healthcare professionals have the substance abuse problems. So, why is it still difficult to imagine that we are treated by possibly affected individuals? The answer is simple: doctors and nurses are good at hiding their problems. In addition to that, they are shielded by their colleagues and co-workers so that we may never know what kind of a healthcare provider we are trusting to the full extent.
Another well-known fact is that substance abuse problems are more frequent with healthcare providers in comparison with a general population of abuse cases. This is preconditioned by: (1) a higher work-related stress, (2) an increased access to controlled substances and (3) the better knowledge of drug effects (Peck, 2009).
“Physicians enjoy the image of ultra-respectability and professional self-assurance. They are accorded to high level of trust and exercise unusual power of professional dominance over the patients. Not everyone agrees that such trust is warranted. One professor of medicine suggested that doctors should be no more trusted than used-car salespeople” (Friedrichs, 2010). If to take into account the possibility of doctor being on drugs during a medical procedure or even operation, or a nurse being on drugs while doing an injection, the feeling of insecurity and mistrust is mounting. Doctors and nurses being the drug addicts and continuing practicing are to be held responsible for a medical crime. But in order for a health care provider to be held responsible, the crime commitment itself should be proven. And this is rarely the case.
One more aspect of drug addiction in the sphere of health care is to be uncovered. According to the medical law is that “nurses have an ethical responsibility to recognize substance abuse” (Butts, 2005). That is totally clear. But how this nurse is going to accuse someone of committing a crime, if she is guilty of the similar illegal activity? It feels unethical and unlawful, even shocking, but this is our everyday reality.
Is drug addiction something, for what a kind of penalty or other form of punishment should be inflicted?
That is a question worth consideration from a legal point of view. But most people are inclined to believe that if there is an addiction, there is no crime. A person indulged in drugs, is not necessarily a violent offender of law. It is on the contrary – he/she needs help, and, in most cases, he/she doesn’t even realize this. “Addiction should never be treated as a crime. It has to be treated as a health problem” (Lundy, 2009).
A belief that if it is a pill, it is safe has been outdated. Even the medications that don’t have some evident side effects may cause an addiction. But no drug addiction is so harmful as its side effects. Psychosis, hallucinations, paranoia, malnutrition and sleep deprivation are only few ones of the possible consequences of any drug indulgence. The good news is that an addiction treatment is as successful as every chronic disorder treatment, such as asthma, diabetes and hypertension. The most important thing in it is that “scare tactics” alone is not a way out (Henson, Venturelli, Fleckenstein, 2012).
Drug abuse risks even among medical sphere workers are enhanced because of an abundant choice, a greater accessibility and more misinformation about drugs. The only thing people can do to protect themselves is to be aware of the consequences, possess the up-to-date information about new drugs. So do not hesitate to ask if something is unknown. The resistance to stereotypes about drug abusers is to be developed. The judgmental attitude about addicts is to be eliminated (Falkowski, 2006). And the last one, but not the least: the recognition of abuse symptoms is a life saver. Even if a person behaves normally outside doesn’t mean that he/she is not a drug addict.
Drug addiction in the sphere of healthcare is not a rare thing. It happens every day, with the individuals which you would never have suspected of doing such things, in the places where most of people seek cure. Meanwhile, the addicts search for an inexhaustible source of drugs. The important thing to remember is that even doctors and nurses are human beings, who give a way to temptation. And although they are very often responsible for human lives, they sometimes can’t gain control of their own lives. Drug addiction, as any kind of addiction, is a curable disease. An important factor on the way to recovery is the acknowledgement of this problem’s existence. All the rest depends on a strong effort and desire to recover.