The opioid crisis hasn’t been in the news as much lately (largely because of the Covid-19 pandemic), but the problem hasn’t gone away. These powerful drugs continue to ruin and end the lives of Americans of every race and socioeconomic status. Even the medical professionals who dispense these drugs are not immune from their devastating addictive properties.
What sometimes gets overlooked in the discussions about opioid abuse are the harms resulting from the theft of these drugs by medical professionals – doctors, nurses, specialists and other hospital staffers. Recently, National Public Radio reported on some of the ways (both obvious and surprising) that healthcare worker drug abuse harms patients and can lead to medical malpractice.
Practicing under the influence
Whether it is a powerful opioid like fentanyl or a commonly available drug like alcohol, physicians and nurses should never be under the influence while treating patients. The same goes for being hung over or going through withdrawal while on the clock. What symptoms will they miss because they aren’t thinking straight? What mistakes might they make because they cannot focus on what patients need?
Sadly, drug and alcohol abuse in medicine are more common than most people realize, including being under the influence while at work.
Patients left in devastating pain due to stolen drugs
Imagine a scenario in which a late-stage cancer patient doesn’t get the doses of painkillers he or she needs to simply get through the day because a hospital staffer has been stealing them. The doses may be recorded as administered to the patient, but the patient never receives them.
This is more than an issue of discomfort. For patients going through the most painful ordeals, opioids can be the only way to endure necessary treatment. And for some, the stress caused by physical pain can exacerbate the damage to the body that has already occurred.
Medication tampering leading to contamination
One professional interviewed by NPR discussed the problem of tampering with medications in an effort to cover up drug theft. If a healthcare professional personally uses an entire vial of fentanyl, for instance, he or she may refill the vile with water. The container is no longer sterile, and the tampering can even introduce blood-born pathogens.
In short, patients are not just being denied critical pain relief. They are actually put at risk for contracting a deadly infection because of a healthcare provider’s dangerous actions.
What to know as a patient
Addiction is a disease, and healthcare workers deserve the same human compassion as anyone else who becomes addicted. The fact remains, however, that addiction in a healthcare setting often has far higher consequences for anyone who may be under the care of the addicted person. As such, drug abuse and theft simply cannot be tolerated or left uninvestigated.
If you or a loved one has been seriously harmed by medical malpractice, including problems related to drug theft/abuse, please discuss your legal options with an experienced and caring medical malpractice attorney in your area.