Nurses Slower to Self-Report Substance Abuse
Despite many U.S states having non-disciplinary programs for nurses who have become substance abusers, Wisconsin is the state with the lowest participation rates, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Contrary to what we might expect, medical professionals also fall victim to substance abuse. They become impaired and struggle in secret trying to regain control over their lives. AP reports that the rate of abuse among health care professionals is one in 10 – which is similar to the general population’s rate. With over 30,000 nurses in Wisconsin, it is safe to assume about 3,000 of them are dealing with substance abuse problems.
Reasons for Wisconsin Nurses Low Participation
As with all other substance abuse related cases, there is always a stigma surrounding a person who admits they have a problem. There is a great fear of being ostracized and of losing your job. Plus, with so many nurses suffering secretly, it is clear that the risk of being fired doesn’t deter them from feeding their addictions. This poses a great danger to patients that may be under their care.
Lori Cuene, a Wisconsin nurse being monitored and treated for alcohol abuse, was quoted by AP saying, “One of the really big frustrations for me was working alongside people who should be in programs but aren’t. Those people are more dangerous than I am.”
The three choices nurses have to deal with when they become addicts are:
- live in fear and avoid getting caught
- seek treatment and experience the stigma associated addiction
- quit their job and find other solutions
Since no one wants to leave the job they love, only the first two options apply. But with these choices, it is important to have nurse monitoring mechanisms in place in order to protect patients.
Mike Miller, medical director of the Herrington Recovery Center, a drug and alcohol treatment facility at Oconomowoc’s Rogers Memorial Hospital, was quoted by AP saying, “Patient safety is the lowest in states with the lowest participation in these [nurse treatment] programs. You could argue that the safest health professional is the monitored health professional.”
Nevertheless, it is Wisconsin’s government-run structure that prevents more nurses from self-reporting their substance abuse issues. The state’s Professional Assistance Procedure (PAP), which caters to nurses and provides confidential substance abuse monitoring during treatment, is under the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS). Unfortunately, the DSPS is also in-charge of the state’s Board of Nursing, which is responsible for disciplining and suspending the licenses of nurses who have substance abuse issues.
As Miller explains to AP, “You basically have to put yourself at risk of discipline and offer, in writing, potentially self-incriminating statements to even be considered for our state program.” Wisconsin nurses therefore face undue pressure when trying to make a decision, not only to get well, but to also have a chance at getting back their medical licenses.
With the situation being unfavorable for nurses, people like Miller and other leaders are pushing for the government-run programs to be scrapped in favor of independent programs. States that run independent nurse treatment programs report that their programs have higher participation rates.
This could therefore be the key to solving Wisconsin’s, as well as the nation’s, problem and ensure that no patient lives are risked by impaired nurses who need help.