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Second Chances: Nurses in Recovery

One in five RNs may face addiction issues during their careers, says the American Nurses Association.

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Annie was stuck on one thought: How could this happen - again?

A veteran critical care nurse in New Jersey, Annie started diverting Demerol and Dilaudid from the supply closet at her hospital after her grandmother died in 1989.

With computerized records in their infancy, Annie was able to sign for the drugs and inject herself intramuscularly. For a while, she got away with it.

When she was caught, she was actually relieved.

Annie went into inpatient rehab for 28 days. She was reported to the state licensing board and lost her RN license for 2 years.

But her employer stood by her. Once she completed the inpatient rehab program, she was able to continue working in the hospital, albeit in an educational role, where she wouldn't have direct access to medications.

After 2 years, Annie regained her RN license. There was no long-term oversight from the state licensing board, no continuing counseling required.

She was clean for 16 years. Then her mother died. Annie was forced to sell her house and move in with her aging father to care for him. If that stress wasn't enough, Annie chose this period to return to clinical practice ? this time in the ED.

When her father died, Annie couldn't cope. She started diverting Percocet and was caught much quicker. She was reported to the state. She lost her job.

It was 2005. She was 47 years old. She was faced with a grim prospect: losing her license, her career and, if things continued to spiral downhill, her life. And all she kept asking herself was: How could this happen . again?

Cunning & Baffling

Annie is a real nurse. Her story is just one of hundreds of other RNs across the U.S. struggling with the often-misunderstood disease of addiction.

The prevalence of addiction among RNs has been disputed in studies during the past 2 decades. Some researchers say nurses are no more likely to face substance abuse disorders than the general population - less than 1 percent. But because of the long hours, constant stress and other pressures, as many as one in five RNs may face addiction issues during their careers, according to the American Nurses Association.

Drug and alcohol addiction can be devastating for any individual, their family and friends. For nurses with substance use disorders, the effects can reach further, potentially affecting the quality of care patients receive, and in some case, even costing patients' their lives, said Joanne Cole, RN, director of the Recovery and Monitoring Program (RAMP), run by the Alternative to Discipline Committee of the New Jersey Board of Nursing.

"The 12-step programs call addiction cunning and baffling," Cole said. "Many nurses who become addicted ? particularly to opioids ? believe the medication gives them more energy, makes them feel better and, in their heads, they are functioning at a higher level."

The Learning Scope: Earn CE Credit

Of course, the opposite is true.

Every year, hundreds of nurses in the U.S. have their licenses suspended or revoked because they harmed a patient, diverted or misappropriated drugs, and couldn't safely practice because of their addiction.

Years ago, nurses caught with addiction problems were dismissed or charged. "As we began recognizing addiction as a disease, the focus changed from disciplining the nurse to helping them get better," Cole said.

Today, more than 40 states have non-disciplinary programs in place to work with nurses and other healthcare professionals with substance use disorders.

Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee had some of the earliest successful Alternatives to Discipline program models. When New Jersey created RAMP in 2003, they saw what worked in other states and adapted it for use locally, Cole said.

(For a list of State Resources for Nurses Battling Addiction, click here.)


Second Chances: Nurses in Recovery

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was an RN for 13 years in Shreveport, La. License were suspended hen I refused to comply with the state boards recommendations after I had successfully completed out patient therapy. Been out of nursing 5 years now and just got a DUI 06/21/14!
Looking to try and get reinstated here in Erie. Currently enrolled in the 2 month out patient rehab at the VA medical center.

gerald rodgersJuly 30, 2014
erie, PA



I have a new appreciation for nurses in recovery. I had a basic knowledge but no real personal understanding of drug/ETOH addiction/dependence. As a nurse more for than 25 years I self reported for use of opiates. The diversion program is set up to protect the public which is completely understandable. It is a rigorous, lengthy and costly program. Many of us take jobs that pay at a starting RN wage. I am grateful for this chance to return to the profession that I have dedicated more than 1/2 of my life doing. I do see much room for improvement in the diversion program itself and in educating the companies and institutions that employ any health professional. We ( those of us in a diversion program) are some of the brightest most caring and dedicated and highly motivated health professionals that there are. We are human and we ultimately made a huge mistake. We have a real disease that affects millions. Nurses in recovery is something we can be proud of. At the very least we are getting the help that we admit we need. Unfortunately and as I myself used to believe we are still looked upon as less than and not to be trusted. The zero tolerance policy
Is a prime example. It causes addiction and dependence to be hidden by those who need help.

Stacey  July 04, 2014



I am proud of my recovery...it has been difficult but AA is fantastic...I struggle with IPN and all their hoops and the fact that it is soooo hard to find a good job when you are in IPN..I have been in recovery for just over 2 years-I never diverted. I self reported because I was told that it was the right thing to do. I have been on 21 interviews and they all slammed the door shut when I told them I was in IPN. I am never given the chance to explain. During one interview I was even told "I can't believe you are aloud to practice-how could you take medicine from someone who really needed it!" She just assumed I diverted. When I tried to explain that I didn't she just ended the meeting and left the room. I ended up accepting a position where I am earning 8.50 less an hour than before I moved here and am having to put up with excessive bullying in a hostile workplace because I couldn't find anything better. Thank God for AA and my Church!!

Margie ,  RNJune 16, 2014
Orlando, FL



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