The abuse of prescription drugs-especially controlled substances-is a serious social and health problem in the United States today. People addicted to prescription medication come from all walks of life. The last people we would suspect of drug addiction are health care professionals-those people trusted with our well-being. Unfortunately, health care workers are as likely as anyone else to abuse drugs.
The vast majority of Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) registered practitioners comply with the controlled substances law and regulations. However, drug impaired health professionals are one source of controlled substances diversion. Many have easy access to controlled substance medications. Some will divert and abuse these drugs for reasons such as relief from stress, self-medication, or to improve work performance and alertness.
Responsibilities of DEA-registered health practitioners
DEA-registered health practitioners have a legal and ethical responsibility to help protect society from drug abuse. They have a professional responsibility to prescribe and dispense controlled substances appropriately. They guard against abuse while ensuring that patients have medication available when they need it. They have a personal responsibility to protect their practice from becoming an easy target for drug diversion. They must become aware of the potential situations where drug diversion can occur and what to do to prevent it.
Recognizing a drug impaired coworker
Drug abusers often exhibit similar unusual behavior. The following signs and symptoms may indicate a drug addiction problem in a health care professional:
The decision to get involved
Health care professionals often avoid dealing with drug impairment in their colleagues. There is the fear that speaking out could anger the coworker, resulting in retribution, or could result in a colleague's loss of professional practice. Many employers or coworkers end up being "enablers" of health care practitioners whose professional competence has been impaired by drug abuse. Drug impaired coworkers are often protected from the consequences of their behavior.
If you recognize signs or symptoms in a coworker, show your concern. Someone's future could be jeopardized if you cover up or don't report your concerns. By becoming involved, you may:
If drugs are being sold or stolen
If you suspect that a drug deal is in progress, do not intervene on your own. Contact security or notify the police. If you are a DEA registrant and become aware of a theft or significant loss involving controlled substances, you must immediately report the theft or loss. You should go to the nearest DEA office as well as your local police department.
What you can do to help
For some employees, a supervisor talking to them about their poor work performance is enough to help them change. Many drug abusers will seek help for their problem if they believe their job is at stake. This may be true even if they have ignored such pleas from other people important in their life. A referral to the Employee Assistance Program is often the supervisor's course of action.
Drug addicts can recover, and effective help is available. Encourage your coworker or employee to seek drug treatment assistance. Treatment programs range from self-help to formal recovery programs. You may suggest they contact the Employee Assistance Program for help in determining the appropriate level of care. The EAP and the treatment programs will maintain the confidentiality of those seeking assistance to the greatest extent possible.
US Department of Justice, adapted by HealthGate Editorial Staff
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