Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

No Victimless Crime

"For somebody with no criminal record at all, and who seems otherwise rehabilitated, a mother of a young child, it's a heavy-duty sentence."
"She was devastated."
"It's like an occupational hazard to get addicted. It's like a kid in a candy store for a health-care professional who has ready access to this kind of stuff."
Mark Ertel, lawyer 

"To absolve someone of something like that, I find very difficult."
"Those individuals have to make some kind of restitution, have to accept the consequences of their behaviours ... It's much like somebody who drinks alcohol and assaults somebody or gets into a car accident."
Dr. Harry Vedelago, addictions physician, Homewood Health, Guelph, Ontario
Dr. Harry Vedelago treats many nurses an other health professionals for their addictions to narcotics.
Glenn Lowson For National Post    Dr. Harry Vedelago treats many nurses an other health professionals for their addictions to narcotics

It is, in fact, much, much more serious, when a health-care professional takes advantage of proximity to stored drugs meant to alleviate pain in patients undergoing care or post-surgery pain management, to procure for themselves a store of drugs to feed their own addiction. In the process sometimes falsifying records to indicate that the painkillers were dispensed to those patients when they were not, when the drugs were stolen by the health-care professional for their own use.

Which is precisely what occurred with a nurse working at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. She chose to steal opioid painkillers along with other drugs over a seven-year period before being caught out. During that time she falsified patient records in the effort to protect herself from discovery. Her case is not an isolated one since it is well known that up to ten percent of nurses and other health-care practitioners, including doctors, succumb to the lure of such drugs and become addicted.

Often pressures related to the work they do, allied with the easy availability of drugs taken illicitly from storage units at the workplace are cited as contributing factors. But the issue is that these are people who for whatever reason make a deliberate choice to use drugs, and to procure them any way they can. The pilfering of narcotics in the workplace setting of a hospital has spotlighted a nationwide occurrence in Canada.

Many of these hospital employees return to work after having taken steps to rehabilitate themselves while others have undergone discipline-related consequences and others still have lost their jobs, or faced criminal prosecution. In the case of the Toronto nurse who made it a regular habit to steal hydromorphone (Dilaudid) along with sedatives of other types from the Holland orthopedic centre at Sunnybrook, the thefts were screened by charting the drugs being administered to surgically recovering patients.

Although denying that she had caused patients to be deprived of needed painkillers post-surgery, Sunnybrook dismissed her from staff. The union that represented her filed a grievance. A psychiatrist called by the hospital agreed that most experts believe addiction is an illness but he spoke of addiction as a choice, not a disease. Viewed as a disability, the nurse who lost her position arguably faced discrimination based on her 'illness', in contravention of the human-rights code.

Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images

In another instance in Kingston, Ontario, a nurse stole hydromorphone for over two and a half years, pilfering supplies meant for dying patients at St. Mary's of the Lake Hospital. This nurse took to replacing what she had taken with a saline solution, and altered patient records. Having done so she must most certainly have been aware that she was doing great potential harm to patients who would then receive a painkilling solution that had been weakened in strength and potent effect through dilution.

In Alberta, the provincial supreme court decided in 2012 to uphold the discipline meted out to two drug-stealing nurses on the basis that not taking this practise seriously enough, and excusing it based on 'addiction' could result in "far-reaching" consequences. That view is not universally held, however. Most regulatory agencies overseeing nurses view their goal as aiding addicted, drug-purloining employees, to assist them to return to work.

And, in the Toronto case, an arbitrator concluded that such serial thefts, motivated by addiction, fed a disability. And as such, the dismissed nurse was due human-rights protection, overturning the woman's dismissal. In her favour, the arbitrator cited the nurse seeking professional help, was currently in remission and when she returns to work as he had decreed, a set of conditions protecting Sunnybrook will define her ongoing tenure.

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  • At 1:02 AM, Blogger Pamela Parker said…

    My suggestion to anyone who is addicted that it does not matter how or why you became addicted to drugs what matters is that you want to do something about it. Dilaudid Withdrawal


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