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Healthcare Worker Drug and Substance Abuse Problem

What happens when those who care for you have trouble caring for themselves?

“I recently joined a communal, long- standing practice of a well-respected practitioner in a small town. A few months ago, I noticed (and so did several staff members) his increasingly erratic and unprofessional behaviour.

When I confronted him about these changes, he claimed that he had been under severe personal and family stress, but everything was coming together. Since our initial discussion things have taken a turn for the worse ... patients have complained about his rude and abrupt manner, he often does not turn up for scheduled patient appointments………. Should I report him? A colleague wondered aloud!

A nurse admits to drinking at work. Another admits to stealing drugs from the hospital where she works. A doctor begins preparing for surgery on a child while drunk. You may be surprised to learn all of these health care professionals are still practicing medicine

I asked a colleague, they believe, "the stresses of working with life and death issues and the long hours. I think that physicians and nurses are at a little bit of an increased risk and we also have better access to medications and drugs sometimes."

It’s no secret that the healthcare industry has a drug and substance abuse problem. Doctors and nurses with addiction issues have made news headlines recently. In a July 2014 report in USA, its reported, a nurse admitted to drinking while at work and a physician that prepared for surgery under the influence are both still practicing medicine in Alaska. The problem, however, is not just unique to Alaska. This is an issue that affects doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals across the world and more in Africa.

The emergence of prescription drug abuse is one of the most worrying and dangerous aspects for the healthcare worker, due to ease of access to such drugs. According to the United Nations, prescription drug abuse is amongst the top three practices of substance abuse.

Physician impairment by substance abuse represents a significant challenge to physicians, patients, and society as a whole. It is estimated that approximately 10- 15% of all health care professionals will misuse drugs or alcohol at some time during their career.

As the stress of daily survival in single practitioner practices increase, so will the danger of substance abuse. This may lead to impairment of the healthcare worker and ultimately loss of registration.

Conflicting evidence exists on the prevalence of substance abuse amongst the medical profession in Kenya. Early research found a prevalence of substance abuse within the medical profession higher than population average. Latest research suggests that random drug testing among clinicians is necessary. Sometimes, one has to invoke their ethical responsibility and report a colleague, for the sake of public safety.

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