Judge Rules Firing Of Nurse Caught Stealing Opioids "Unfair" Because Of Addiction

By Bryan Le 01/22/19

The nurse had falsified patient requests for drugs, used them, and then further falsified records that the medications were delivered to the patient.

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A nurse who was caught injecting herself with opioids she had reported as being delivered to patients has had her name cleared of wrongdoing because a judge has ruled her addiction a disease.

Not only has the long-term care facility where she works been forced to take her back on the job, but the Regional Municipality of Waterloo has also been ordered to financially compensate the nurse for “injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.”

The presiding judge, arbitrator Larry Steinberg, argued that the nurse suffered from the disease of severe opioid use disorder, leaving her with “a complete inability or a diminished capacity” to resist stealing and using opioid medications meant for patients at her place of work.

The nurse in question, named in records only as DS, was found to have falsified patient requests for drugs, used them, and then further falsified records that the medications were delivered to the patient. A fellow nurse also caught DS using patients’ drugs in the restroom.

Faced with accusations from management, DS at first denied using the drugs but later admitted to becoming addicted after using drugs as part of her treatment for a kidney condition.

The incidents that DS stands accused of happened in 2016, and DS said she has not used any such drugs since going to rehab later that year.

Legal representatives for the long-term care facility argued that reinstating DS’ employee status would burden the facility with “undue hardship.” They claimed that if DS were to steal a fentanyl patch from one of the many patients there who suffer from dementia, the patients would not be aware enough to realize it and report her.

Additionally, other nurses cannot be depended on to go above and beyond their duties to monitor DS to ensure she does not commit further thefts. Furthermore, they argued, DS was not fired for being addicted but for falsifying records and stealing.

However, Steinberg ruled that the theft and falsification of records were symptoms of a disease DS suffered from.

The nature of addiction became central to the case. An addiction expert who was brought in to weigh in on the case, a professor of psychiatry named Lawrie Reznek, testified that addiction is more like a “bad habit” than a disease. He did admit that his opinion “was a minority view in the psychiatric profession and that it was contrary, for example, to the DSM-5.”

Steinberg argued that calling addiction a “bad habit” actually “stigmatizes these conditions and makes it harder for people to get help.” Science backs the judge’s opinion, as studies have found addiction to affect those with genetic predispositions to it and actually change the brain and body in measurable ways. 

However, the Canadian justice system has not historically treated addiction as such, convicting several nurses accused of similar crimes.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter

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