May 30, 2014
2 min read

Top 5 signs your coworker is abusing drugs

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Doctors, nurses and other health professionals are just as likely to abuse drugs as anyone else, according to a report from California’s Department of emergency medicine, and some have made headlines.

Some problems are obvious, such as drug inventory not adding up or detecting signs that someone is visibly impaired, but as headlines have proven, many addicts function in their positions without revealing blatant clues. So what are the signs that a coworker is one of the 10 to 14 out of every 100 people likely to be abusing drugs?

1. Changes in behavior

According to a National Council of Nursing State Boards (NCNSB) publication, addicted individuals in a healthcare setting will seeks ways to use or obtain drugs, which may require unusual behavior. The individual may volunteer to work extra hours or with patients who need pain medication in order to divert the drugs into their possession. A once-friendly or outgoing coworkers who becomes addicted to prescription drugs may begin to become isolated and less likely to engage with coworkers.

2. Frequent and long trips to the lavatory or other unusual absences

Addicted individuals will seek out private places to inject drugs, sleep off the effects, or pass out, so bathrooms or broom closets, or other private rooms which can be locked are places addicts will seek out for long periods of time. The individual may also experience nausea, vomiting or other drug side effects which could send them to the lavatory more frequently.

3. Poor hygiene and poor general appearance

As an addict’s life becomes more centered on obtaining, using and recovering from the side effects of drugs, their personal habits may suffer and may appear visibly unhealthy. An addicted coworker may come in to work wearing unwashed clothing and may not keep up with good grooming habits.

4. Making frequent mistakes

It should come as no surprise that addicted healthcare workers will make mistakes, whether they are actively using or performing poorly due to lack of sleep, and physical and mental stress. However, not all of the mistakes may be major or serious. A rash of small mistakes could also be indicative of drug use, but easy to overlook as being stress-related.

5. An unusual number of reports from patients that pain medication isn’t working

As an addicted healthcare worker diverts drugs for personal use, missing drugs must be replaced with something to remain unnoticed. Users have been known to remove drugs like fentanyl with syringes from vials, replacing it with saline to escape detection. An unusual number of patients complaining about lack of pain relief from anesthesia could be a sign that drugs are being diverted, even if the numbers add up.

Any combinations of these signs in a coworker could be good reason to have a discussion with that individual or to ask other coworkers if they’ve noticed any unusual behavior. While it may be uncomfortable, the sooner a problem is addressed, the safer everyone will be. And the good news is that a report in Critical Care Medicine published in 2007 and another published from the Department of Energy Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, show that recovery from addiction for healthcare professionals tends to be higher than for the general population. – By Shirley Pulawski