Web site spotlight: More nurses seek help for substance abuse

Nurse Leader Insider, August 3, 2009

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Peer Assistance Services, a Colorado nonprofit organization that provides guidance, support, and rehabilitation services for healthcare professionals, has seen an increase in nursing clients this year—a majority of whom needed help for alcohol and drug abuse.

But, the growing number of nurses seeking treatment for substance abuse doesn't necessarily reflect a growing problem, according to Rebecca Heck, BSN, RN, MPH, program director of the Nursing Peer Health Assistance program at Peer Assistance Services in Denver.

"We are seeing more nurses come forward, but the problem of substance abuse among healthcare professionals mirrors that of the general public," she says. "I don't know if there is an actual increase in the problem or if nurses are becoming more comfortable coming to us for help."

Heck attributes recent media attention surrounding drug thefts by Colorado healthcare professionals as influencing more nurses to seek treatment. The most recent being the case of a former Rose Medical Center surgical technician, Kristen Diane Parker, who admitted to stealing fentanyl-filled syringes and occasionally swapping them with her used syringes filled with saline. The Denver Post reports that 20 patients appear to have contracted hepatitis-C from Parker as a result.

"I think the stigma is still there and is powerful," Heck says. "But this is making the front page and people are getting scared and realizing they need help."

Editor's note: This excerpt was adapted from the article, "More nurses seek help for substance abuse" featured in The Reading Room on HCPro's online resource center,

Do you need continuing education (CE) credits? Check out this month's CE article to learn about effective checklists used in various hospital settings or visit our archives and view a compilation of CE articles (marked with an asterisk).

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