FOX25 Investigates: Growing concerns about nurses struggling with addiction

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BOSTON - The opioid epidemic is impacting those responsible for our healthcare and it's costing more and more nurses their jobs.

Nurses have dangerous, high stress jobs. When injured, a simple prescription from their doctor can quickly lead to problems that can be exacerbated by their easy access to addictive pain killers.

One nurse's story

Dara, who didn’t want us to use her full name, says she became a nurse to help people. In 2006 she had some medical issues that left her in need of help. She was 36 years old when she got a prescription from her doctor that would change her life.

"I was given prescriptions for Percocet and Vicodin," she said. “The first time I received the narcotics it was an instant love for it. An immediate rush came over me."

As a nurse in the ER, it was hard for Dara to escape the source of her addiction. A year after her first pill, the hospital began to notice discrepancies in how she administered medication.

“At this point I knew I had an illness that had become out of control" she said.

Dara says that was the moment she knew she had lost control. She immediately asked for help. 

A growing problem

Dara's story is not unique. In 2016, 73 nurses in Massachusetts surrendered their licenses for substance abuse or diverting a controlled substance, nearly three times as many as in 2015, according to data from the Department of Public Health.

"The number one risk for nurses is the risk for injury. That's where we see the majority of nurses getting into the issues of addiction," said Carol Malia with Massachusetts Nurses Association.  "I think the more we tear down the shame and the guilt and get out and explore and let people know that the resources are there."

Mallia works with the union's peer assistance program which tries to help nurses struggling with addiction before things get out of control.  She said that addiction is not a new problem for the profession and affects between 8 and 10 percent of nurses, which is on par with the general population.

“We need to except that nurses are vulnerable too,” said Mallia.

Looking deeper into the data

FOX 25 Investigates examined state data that showed reports of a nurse stealing powerful drugs, like fentanyl, from their patients.

Another was found overdosing in their car.

Registered nurse Marjorie Taylor had her license suspended in February of 2015. She plead guilty in January of this year to 35 counts of writing false prescriptions for thousands of pills of OxyContin.  She received three years of probation and is actively seeking help for recovery.

A long road to recovery

Dara tells us she misses nursing and is working to get back to her work of helping others. She says it's been a long journey as she learns how to best help herself.

"A lot of things I thought I couldn't handle, I learned I can handle.  I don't need substances to get through it.  That's a lot of what I'm learning in this process of healing," she said.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association has a free and confidential hotline that struggling nurses can call 800-882-2056 extension 755.

They estimate between 200 and 250 nurses are currently in the state’s Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program or SARP.  It’s a rigorous five-year recovery program that must be completed in order for nurses to be able to go back to work. 

Some hospitals have increased security of powerful narcotics. For example, Mass General tells us since 2013, they've had a team dedicated to drug diversion or medication stolen on the job. They're using enhanced surveillance, daily auditing, and training.

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