Drug Testing Healthcare Workers


I would like to start by giving you my thoughts on randomly drug testing healthcare workers throughout their employment. I know there is some controversy surrounding this, some people seem to think this is an invasion of privacy. I believe it to be necessary in the world we live in. Healthcare workers, particularly nurses, are much more likely to abuse the drugs they give their patients. It is generally accepted that 10-15% of healthcare workers abuse drugs and/or alcohol. Yet only a small number of them are discovered. As a society we want our patients in hospitals to be well taken care of. How can we ensure patient safety when 1 in 10 of the people caring for the patients are drunk or high?

I believe we are afraid of the results. If we start testing healthcare workers, we will see the scope of the problem. Hospitals that are already short staffed will loose a portion of their workforce. We will have to admit that as a group, we have failed our patients, that we knew a problem existed but we refused to look at it.  Maybe those making the decision NOT to drug test have a drug or alcohol problem themselves. Whatever the reason is, the culture needs to change. The problem will not go away, in fact it is getting worse. If we don’t do something as a group, if we don’t change the atmosphere, it will continue to grow.

Denial is such a big part of drug abuse. Denial by the healthcare field as a whole and denial by individuals. Both those who abuse drugs and those that work with them. Denial isn’t working. One small step we can take is to do frequent and random urine drug screens on all healthcare workers that have access to prescription drugs. Its simple really. The cost is small. Especially if you compare the cost of drug testing to the alternatives. A new nurse will have to be hired and trained, which costs time and money. There is no way to put a price on patient safety. The cost of mistakes made by impaired professionals is unknown, but I assure you it is high. One patient hurt or lost due to care given by a doctor or nurse under the influence is one too many. How do you put a cost on that?

Next week I will talk about specific procedures for these random drug screens.

What do you think about testing healthcare workers for drug abuse? If you are against it, why? Do you think more knowledge about the seriousness of the drug abuse problem could change your mind? Give it some thought.

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.

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