Over 168,000 Healthcare Workers Use Illicit Drugs, Warns Novus Medical Detox Center

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Recent studies and news stories indicate that substance abuse among healthcare professionals is a pervasive issue in the United States and abroad. Novus Medical Detox Center examines the data and advocates for greater awareness and support.

Will Wesch, Director of Admissions for Novus Medical Detox Center, calls for awareness and support for healthcare workers struggling with substance abuse

Healthcare workers are expected to play a key role in identifying and treating patients with substance use disorders. Yet studies show that a number of them are waging their own battles against addiction and dependency.

A new study out of Australia revealed that, on average, 37 healthcare professionals die each year from drug overdoses.(1) Meanwhile, U.S. government surveys found that more than 168,000 healthcare and social assistance workers engage in illicit drug use each year.(2) Novus Medical Detox Center, a leading Florida-based drug treatment facility, calls for healthcare employers to proactively address the issue with programs aimed at preventing substance abuse and providing appropriate treatment.

Between 2003 and 2013, Australian coroners documented 404 drug-related fatalities among healthcare professionals, with nurses accounting for 63% of those deaths and medical practitioners for 18%.(1) Researchers noted that most of the drugs were obtained illegally from employees’ workplaces, either by theft or self-prescription.(3) They theorize that several factors may predispose healthcare workers to substance abuse and premature death, including high-stress careers, long work hours and ready access to controlled substances.(1)

Within the United States, the latest report on substance abuse by industry compared combined data from 2003–2007 and 2008–2012, and found the number of healthcare and social assistance professionals engaging in past-month illicit drug use rose from an average of 164,600 to 168,400 per year.(2) A USA TODAY investigative story further revealed that 1 in 10 practitioners will succumb to drug or alcohol abuse at some point in their lives.(4)

“Healthcare workers are expected to play a key role in identifying and treating patients with substance use disorders. Yet studies show that a number of them are waging their own battles against addiction and dependency,” observed Will Wesch, Director of Admissions for Novus Medical Detox Center. “These are people who undoubtedly understand the risks of substance abuse and misuse, so the fact that they’ve fallen victim to it proves that nobody is immune to addiction or dependency.”

Though substance abuse in the healthcare industry may have previously been overlooked or underreported, Wesch says that popular dramas like the Netflix series Nurse Jackie have raised awareness of the issue, while news stories have demonstrated the potential repercussions. For example, one hospital technician who was found to be injecting himself with patients’ medications and refilling the syringes with saline is believed to have infected more than 45 patients with hepatitis.(4)

“Drug diversion among healthcare workers can have dire consequences for practitioners and patients alike,” warned Wesch. “That’s why it’s in employers’ best interests to have programs and policies for dealing with these kinds of issues before they lead to fatal outcomes. Administrators should be monitoring staff for signs of stress and overwork, and providing appropriate mental health services to deter workers from ‘self-medicating’ to cope with the demands of their jobs.”

Wesch also advises employers to provide and promote access to drug treatment programs rather than relying solely on punitive policies. “If healthcare professionals fear for their jobs, they’re more likely to hide their substance use than seek help. Likewise, workers may be more apt to cover for colleagues they suspect of using drugs because they don’t want to get anyone fired,” he explained. “When employers support drug rehab and detox programs, it can motivate users to get clean. It also gives the healthcare facility an opportunity to regain a committed and experienced worker rather than having to recruit and train a replacement.”

Novus offers medically supervised alcohol and drug detox programs that help minimize the discomfort of withdrawal. The Florida detox facility provides personalized treatment plans based on proven medical protocols, including 24-hour access to nursing care and withdrawal specialists. Novus is acclaimed for its expertise in treating high-dose methadone cases, and is proficient in detoxing patients from other prescription drugs just as safely, comfortably and effectively.

For more information on Novus Medical Detox Center and its alcohol and drug treatment programs, visit http://www.novusdetox.com.

About Novus Medical Detox Center:
Novus Medical Detox Center has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for Behavioral Health Care Accreditation as an inpatient medical detox facility. Licensed by the Florida Department of Children and Families, Novus provides safe, effective alcohol and drug treatment programs that are based on proven medical protocols and designed to minimize the discomfort of withdrawal. The facility is located on 3.25 acres in New Port Richey, Florida, in a tranquil, spa-like setting bordering protected conservation land. Intent on proving that detox doesn’t have to be painful or degrading, Novus set out to transform the industry by bringing humanity into medical detox with individually customized treatment programs and 24/7 access to nursing care and withdrawal specialists. Today, Novus is renowned as a champion of industry standardization and a staunch advocate of patients fighting to overcome substance use disorders. Frequently recognized for its contributions to the industry and local community, Novus has become a regular source to media publications such as The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, and has ranked in the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s Fast 50, the Florida Business Journal’s Top 500 and the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing companies. For more information on Novus’ medically supervised detox programs, visit http://novusdetox.com.

1. Pilgrim, Jennifer L.; Rhyse Dorward; and Olaf H. Drummer. “Drug-Caused Deaths in Australian Medical Practitioners and Health-Care Professionals”; Addiction; November 20, 2016. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.13619/full

2. Bush, Donna M. and Rachel N. Lipari. The CBHSQ Report: Substance Use and Substance Use Disorder by Industry; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality; April 16, 2015. samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_1959/ShortReport-1959.html

3. Scott, Sophie and Dr. Norman Swan. “Study Indicates High Rate of 'Intentional' Drug-Related Deaths Among Nurses”; ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation); November 20, 2016. abc.net.au/news/2016-11-21/study-indicates-high-rate-of-drug-related-deaths-among-nurses/8038866

4. Eisler, Peter. “Doctors, Medical Staff on Drugs Put Patients at Risk”; USA TODAY; April 17, 2014. usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/15/doctors-addicted-drugs-health-care-diversion/7588401/

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