The Nurse Jackie Syndrome

By Dirk Hanson 04/05/11

Should drugged-out docs and nurses be summarily fired—or rehabbed and returned to their jobs?

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Pill-popping practitioners get another chance.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

Should drug-abusing medical workers be allowed to keep their job if they're caught?  Depends on whom you ask.  Recently a 61 year-old doctor near Stockholm was reported to Sweden’s Medical Responsibility Board for two DWIs and the loss of his driver’s license—but the governing body refused to revoke his license to practice medicine, stating that there were no “circumstances whatsoever” to show that the doctor's drinking had caused problems for patients. Meanwhile, in California, more than 140 nurses and pharmacists enrolled in the state’s “diversion programs” for substance-abusing medical workers recently tested positive on drug and alcohol screens, but the results of the tests were dismissed due to improper test procedures.All were be allowed to remain in their jobs. “These were not just social drinkers,” said Julianne D’Angelo Fellmeth at the University of San Diego School of Law, who was aghast at the state's surprising decision. “They were confirmed substance abusers who had a license to provide healthcare, and they were allowed to practice on potentially dozens of patients each day for 10 months with faulty drug testing.” An L.A. Times investigation of diversion programs for medical workers found participants who “practiced while intoxicated, stole drugs from their bedridden patients and falsified records to cover their tracks.” 

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]