St. Mark's Hospital - July 01, 2017

Recognizing Addiction

The safety of our patients requires that every healthcare worker is functioning at the top of his or her game.

Chemical dependency in healthcare workers jeopardizes patient safety. Working in a healthcare setting poses the opportunity to divert narcotics or other substances with abuse potential. St. Mark’s Hospital uses multiple methods both prevent and monitor for possible drug diversion.

Our Medication Diversion Prevention Team meets regularly to review our prevention systems and monitoring audits, then acts when drug diversion is suspected or novel diversion methods are detected. Our goal is to prevent all diversion of controlled substances by using secure medication dispensing systems, (such as Pyxis automated dispensing cabinets), witnessed narcotic wasting, and rapid investigation of audit variances.

Despite effective prevention systems and monitoring, health care professionals can and do develop chemical dependency. Chemical dependency focuses the creative energy and time of an addicted individual on feeding that addiction. In order to protect our patients from harm and in order to help our colleagues who become entrapped in addiction, we all need to be on alert for behavior changes that signal addiction. Characteristic workplace behaviors of individuals who are chemically dependent may include:

  • Offers to administer pain medications on behalf of other staff
  • Disappears from the unit
  • Cannot keep documentation straight
  • Acts “off”
  • Falls asleep on unit
  • Spends excessive time in medication rooms
  • Throws up
  • Exhibits changes in behavior/mood
  • Volunteers to work extra shifts and comes in when not scheduled
  • Medicates a patient more often than other shifts without explanation
  • Patient complains that pain medications from a specific staff member are not working

If you think this would never happen here at St. Mark’s, think again. It does. It did. Do not dismiss what you see – report suspicious behaviors or any evidence of tampering with drug containers to the chief medical officer, so that the pieces can be put together.

If someone you know with a license to practice in healthcare has an addiction problem, please contact the Utah Recovery Assistance Program at either 801-530-6428 or 801-530-6718.

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