The case of a nurse intentionally giving a lethal doses of morphine to a resident at a Chicago- area nursing home raises many concerns surrounding patient care, but one that jumps out at me is: who is looking after the medication stash in nursing homes? Are most facilities so short staffed that no person is assigned to monitor the quantity of medications distributed? Are potentially lethal medications treated with no more controls than a glass of water?
I recently came across this article regarding drug abuse amongst medical professionals in South Carolina and it seems as though many nursing home run a self-serve medication administration plan for their employees. How widespread is prescription drug abuse (this includes stealing medication):
- More than 1 our of 100 nurses has been disciplined for a drug-related offense- most involve stealing medications
- 1.3% of licensed practical nursed (LPN) has faced discipline for: stealing drugs, forging prescriptions, failing drug screens and showing up to work impaired
- The percentage of medical professionals addicted to drugs is higher than the general population
- According to the DEA, 7 million American abuse prescription drugs
- the most commonly abused drugs amongst the nurses involved in disciplinary cases are: morphine, Demerol and hydrocodone
- nurses also tended to abuse pain killers such as: Dillaudid, Stadol, OxyContin, phenobarital and Duragesic patches
Obviously, an impaired nurse puts patient care in jeopardy because the nurse may not be able to tend to the patient’s needs. Also, an impaired nurse may be so desperate for his or her fix that they withhold necessary medication from the patient and use it for themselves. There are reported instances where nurses have: removed Duragesic patches for nursing home residents, replace Oxycontin with similarly colored pills and replaced liquid medications with water.
While I sympathize with the nurses who may have addition problems, the real victims here are the nursing home residents who have medication withheld or improperly administered. Nursing home owners must take responsibility for controlling access to highly addictive medications and implement programs to assure residents are receiving not only the proper dosages of medications, but also that there is real medication administered in the first place.