Drug abuse made easy
Sometime in the late ’80s to early ’90s, pharmaceutical companies started producing and marketing powerful narcotics like MS Contin. Doctors decided to start seriously treating pain. Healers by nature, it was only natural that they would want to provide any comfort they could.
Narcotic prescriptions were handed out like Chinese restaurant menus. Problems began to surface quickly. Drug abuse became more commonplace. It was no longer a thing of needles and back alleys. Now you could get high on a pill approved by the US Government, prescribed by a medical professional, and purchased at the friendly neighborhood pharmacy down the street.
How prevalent is drug abuse? In 2010, studies showed that 8.76 million people were addicted to prescription medicines. 5.3 million of those were to painkillers, with the rest being addicted to tranquilizers and stimulants.
Drugs are everywhere. Chronic pain is the new trendy thing to have. Hospitals are filling with patients calmly sitting on their beds, reading a book as they ask for something to fix their “10 out of 10” pain.
Who’s going to be there to take care of these people? You guessed it, nurses.
The nurses start out administering the meds like they are supposed to. Eventually, the ease of access to these meds becomes tempting. They’re on their third 12-hour shift, and the exhaustion and stress begin to get to them. They have several patients with narcotics prescribed as needed. None of their patients truly look like they are in pain. They really don’t need the medicine. It becomes easy to justify how much more they need it than their patients.
You’ve probably heard it said that “it gets easier with time.” That statement is usually reserved for those that are experiencing loss or heartache, but the sentiment holds true here. You take the first pill, and the next one gets a little easier.
Nurses and substance abuse
Addicts don’t always look like you think they would. I would be surprised when I would hear that one of the nurses I worked with was a recovering addict. These were awesome nurses, but my surprise at finding they were in recovery was overshadowed by the surprise at seeing them fall back into the grasp of drug abuse.
When I was first introduced to addiction, I was very naive. I looked at addiction as I would any other illness. Something to be cured. I’m a nurse, why couldn’t I help “fix” these people?
After a spiral into codependency, I emerged wiser. I now understand that addiction is a lifetime illness. There are addicts currently abusing substances, and there are addicts in recovery.
One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned is that relapse is a part of recovery. Nothing teaches that lesson better than pulling back the curtain in a patient’s room, to find a coworker passed out hooked up to their patient’s IV. You see a lot of crazy things in a hospital.
A lot of these nursing addicts began with legitimate pain issues. They were prescribed something that was intended to help. It eased the pain for a short while, then the pain came back with a vengeance. The next time their patient needed a dose of their pain med, the nurse might just make an “error”. The pill was dropped and “thrown away”. Thus, the cycle of addiction begins.
Addicts aren’t bad people. They have a disease, no different than if they had cancer. Diseases need treatment. The tough part is getting the addict to seek out the treatment. The decision has to be theirs.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from addiction, there are resources. A quick Google search will show you rehab centers nearby. There are also local support groups through Narconon. Help is out there.
Sean Parker is a BSN, RN living in Nashville, TN. He also has a Masters in Global Business Management. He is the author of the nursing blog, “A Nurse’s Journey”. If you enjoyed reading this article, you should check out his blog. It has other informative articles, as well as some humorous stories from his time as a nurse. Click the link below to visit his site: http://anursesjourney.com
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