Devastating Loss…

03Apr2016

Devastating Loss…

Last month I heard about a young nurse, age 23, who died of a heroin overdose. Jessica Ludwiczak was dropped off at an ER in a comatose state by an unknown man. There were track marks on her body. Her family was stunned, they had no idea she used drugs. She was a nurse at a local hospital, she was studying at Alverno College to become a registered nurse. Her family said there were no signs that indicated Ms. Ludwiczak had a drug problem…no signs. That is the key point in this story to me. Nobody knew I was using either. We, addicts, can be so good at hiding our drug use. This is why we need to be randomly drug tested. Maybe if they had this requirement at the hospital where Ms. Ludwiczak worked they would have caught her. Sure, it would have been devastating to this young nurse. Her career dreams would have been seriously altered. But she would have been alive. She would have had the opportunity to start her life, her career over again. She may have been successful at fighting her addiction, she may not have been, but she would have had a chance. She has no chance now. It is such a waste of a life, what could have been a beautiful life.

I used drugs for years and nobody knew…NOBODY. I was smart, or so I thought. I knew how much I could take while working so that nobody would suspect. Please note that I write ‘while working’. I did not just do this in the privacy of my home while my children were safely tucked in bed. No, I did it whenever I could. While working, while driving, while taking care of my kids, while visiting friends and family, anytime I had drugs to take. As my addiction progressed I became less able to control when and where I used them.

Yet, I was one of the lucky ones, although it didn’t feel that way at the time. I got caught before having to suffer Ms. Ludwiczak’s fate. Nobody suspected I was using until the stock supply started disappearing. You see, after a time I could no longer wait for the ‘waste’ drugs, I craved them so badly. Once I started taking the stock supply it didn’t take them long to figure out it was me. I was arrested and charged with 26 felonies. I was absolutely devastated. I had no idea what I was going to do. But again I say, I was one of the lucky ones, I ended up getting clean (after a few more stumbles) and have stayed that way for 11 years (and counting). I am a nurse in good standing again.

I think the most important thing to take away from this blog is that you can’t always tell if someone is using drugs or not using drugs. If you depend on being able to identify those with a substance abuse problem by sight you will be missing many of them. Sure there are some that reek of alcohol, pass out in bathrooms or get arrested, those are the obvious cases, but there are just as many that are hiding an addiction that nobody can see. They are the ones that we need to focus our attention on. They are the ones that may be helped if random urine drug screens would be required of all healthcare workers with access to controlled substances. Detecting their problem could prevent a death. The death of the addict or their patient’s death. They are dangerous, I was dangerous. I didn’t think so at the time, I thought I had it all figured out. But I was fooling myself. Anyone who is high at work is risking their patient’s safety. Their decisions and reactions are flawed.

Please join me in my quest to get people to listen. The public needs to understand the scope of the problem. The Licensing Boards need to advocate for random drug testing. The government needs to require it. I am one voice and few are listening to me. I need more voices.

About the Author

Kristin Waite-Labott is a registered nurse and recovering addict who has firsthand experience with the challenges of addiction. She now works as the Head Nurse Coach at Veritus, a virtual treatment program for nurses with substance use and mental health disorders, and is dedicated to helping nurses overcome addiction and making a difference in the lives of others. Kristin is passionate about addressing the growing problem of addiction among healthcare professionals and encourages open discussions and action to prevent it from spreading further.

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for your very interesting thoughts Kris. I think the stigma of drug addiction being the way it is presents a problem in itself. The medical Profession does not treat drug addiction as a disease the way they treat other diseases. I spent many times in the ER after being revived from an overdose being directly judged by the staff. If I were a diabetic or if I had cancer, I wouldn’t have been treated the same way. It made me just want to hide my disease even more. Random drug testing is a great direction to identifying nurses who need help. Regular in-services for hospital staff on drug addiction in the workplace that won’t make one feel like they are bad, but rather they need help and where to find that help I believe is a good thing. Removing the stigma of dug addiction is also a step in the right direction. Using phrases like “catching nurses” and “caught her” gives a picture of handcuffs and jail. I don’t believe this is a deterrent. I will give you an example. There was a nurse working at Froedert Hospital that was brought back to the “office” where they explained to her that they knew she was stealing drugs from the med cart. This was 1985. They gave her a choice. She could go to jail or go directly into treatment. She was not fired. She chose to go into treatment and after treatment went back to work with many stipulations in place. She followed them and went to meetings. Luckily and by the grace of God did everything right and after 5 years was able to get her full licensure back and has been sober since. She went back to work on the same ICU unit she had worked on prior to her falter. These things don’t always have a happy outcome, but she wasn’t fired and left out to figure things out for herself. You see, it is a disease and when you get your diagnosis and the treatment you don’t need to be told that you lost your job and you may have to go to jail. Which means getting a lawyer, etc. What nurses should be fighting for are rights in our jobs. Froedtert did a smart thing. They were able to keep a good nurse and treat her as if she had any other kind of medical condition. If it isn’t going to be treated like a medical condition then take it out of the medical textbooks and the DSMIV as a disease. I believe it is more than drug screens that is going to “solve” the problem. What happens when the urine drug screen comes back positive? Is there a plan in place on what to do with this very human being with a known disease left up to his or her peers who are in the medical profession to decide? It would seem counter intuitive to fire them. Even more so to bring charges against them. Are there laws on the books or is it independent hospital policy from hospital to hospital on what the procedure is if a doctor or nurse gets a positive UDS? And is it the same for doctors and nurses? Lots of questions surrounding this. Thanks again.

  2. I just want to add that it is unfortunate for that young girl. We addicts do go to great lengths to hide our addiction. Perhaps if she knew that she could still be a recovering addict and a nurse. Who knows what she was thinking. Most of the time in the depths of addiction we are just thinking about our next score. We addicts need to share our stories with those who think they are less than for being addicts. Perhaps stories, not scare tactics, need to be shared with students as early as Fundamentals of Nursing. Thank you

  3. I knew Jessica as a friend and a fellow user. Time after time i tried to convince her to quit. That she didnt want to grow up as I had. You see, I suffered alone for 40 plus years in my addiction. Yes I lost job after job due tuuo my addiction but that didn’t slow me down, it taught me how to be sneakier iihow to hide my usage so at least I thought. Co workers noticed but said nothing. It is that wall os silence that helped keep me sick. PEOPLEneed to stand up and say someting when they first notice something strange in our behhavior, when they feel something is out of place. There was no need for this loss off such a beautiful precious life. I will miss her dearly as I damn all you who stood mute and said nothing……

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