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Some Health Workers Suffering From Addiction Steal Drugs Meant For Patients : NPR

The federal government estimates one in 10 healthcare workers experience substance use disorder. There is rising concern that medical professionals are stealing powerful opioid pain medications meant for their patients.

Kaz Fantone/NPR


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Kaz Fantone/NPR

The federal government estimates one in 10 healthcare workers experience substance use disorder. There is rising concern that medical professionals are stealing powerful opioid pain medications meant for their patients.

Kaz Fantone/NPR

When Kristin Waite-Labott, a nurse in Wisconsin, began stealing fentanyl and morphine from her hospital’s medical supply cabinets, she found it was relatively easy to cover her tracks.

Her drug inventory paperwork often didn’t add up, but she found coworkers willing to cover for her.

“They trusted me” she said. “Unfortunately I was taking advantage of that trust and that happens all the time.”

But Waite-Labott’s addiction to fentanyl quickly spiraled out of control.

“Taking it one time, I instantly craved more. It’s so powerful and deadly,” she said.

Waite-Labott eventually lost her job and spent time in jail before entering recovery and regaining her nursing license.

She works now helping other health workers who struggle with addiction and says she’s still haunted by the thought of patients she might have harmed.

“I don’t know that I made any errors,” she said. “But I can’t be certain of that because I was under the influence at work.”

NPR found a growing number of health industry experts and researchers who warn this kind of on-the-job drug theft by health workers may be increasing.

“It’s extremely common and the consequences can be very very grave,” said Kimberly New, an expert on medical drug misuse, known in the industry as diversion.

Patients in pain, patients taking contaminated medications

Harm to patients from drug diversion can be severe. In extreme cases, health workers divert so much medication, patients wind up undergoing cancer treatments or post-surgical recovery without pain relief.

“Patients will be left to linger in pain and not receive the doses that they were supposed to receive,” New said. “The diverter has progressed to the point where they’re no longer willing to share with the patients.”

Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mayo Clinic also found healthcare workers who steal drugs frequently tamper with medications, leaving them contaminated.

“I go and take a fentanyl vial, I administer the entire vial to myself and I refill the vial with water,” New said, describing a typical scenario. “Unfortunately many patients have been infected with blood-born pathogens.”

The Mayo Clinic study found as many as 28,000 hospital patients were put at risk of contracting Hepatitis C over a 10-year period because of this kind of drug theft and tampering.

Last year, physicians at a Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, N.Y., reported six of their patients contracted a rare bacterial blood infection after a nurse replaced opioid medications with tap water.

“We share our experience to alert health care providers,” the doctors wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine

Trump Suffering From ‘Severe’ Case of Coronavirus? Doctors Question Use Of Dexamethasone

KEY POINTS

  • Experts say Trump’s COVID-19 case may be more severe than his doctors are releasing
  • The president’s medical team announced they had given him a dose of dexamethasone
  • The steroid is used to treat patients who are on ventilators or need extra oxygen 

Experts questioned President Donald Trump’s health and the severity of his COVID-19 infection after the president’s doctors said he has started on dexamethasone — a generic steroid used to reduce inflammation caused by other diseases. 

Trump’s medical team announced Sunday that the president had received his first dose of the steroid after experiencing low oxygen levels. Doctors at Walter Reed National Medical Center held a press conference Sunday morning, where they confirmed Trump received supplemental oxygen Friday and Saturday after intially denying it.

The medical team also detailed Trump’s treatment plan, which including taking dexamethasone and a five-day treatment course of remdesivir.

“If he continues to look and feel as well as he does today, our hope is that we can plan for a discharge as early as tomorrow to the White House where he can continue his treatment course,” Dr. Brian Garibaldi said. 

However, doctors not involved in treating the president said his dexamethasone treatment could be evidence that he is experiencing a more severe coronavirus case than his doctors are reporting, Reuters reported. 

“What I heard in the news conference description suggested the President has more severe illness than the generally upbeat picture painted,” said Dr. Daniel McQuillen, an infectious disease specialist at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center. 

Dexamethasone and similar steroids are used to improve survival in hospitalized patients who need extra oxygen. However, studies show that the drug may be harmful when used in patients with a milder illness. 

The National Institutes of Health released COVID-19 treatment guidelines that recommended against using dexamethasone in patients who are not on ventilators or not receiving supplemental oxygen. Prescribing the steroid too early could tamp down specific immune cells and prevent the body from fighting off the infection.

Trump’s impending release from the hospital doesn’t necessarily mean he is out of the woods. “He’s not going to go to a home where there’s no medical care. There’s basically a hospital in the White House,” Dr. Walid Gellad, professor of medicine at University of Pittsburgh, told Reuters.

Trump was flown to the hospital Friday hours after he tested positive for the novel coronavirus. White House staffers received an email Sunday that urged them to “stay home” and “do not come to work” if they showed any symptoms. 

According to The Hill, the all-staff email directed White House staff members to contact their primary care provider and inform their supervisors should they exhibit coronavirus-related symptoms. 

Donald Trump tweeted from hospital calling for US lawmakers to get a new stimulus deal done Donald Trump tweeted from hospital calling for US lawmakers to get a new stimulus deal done Photo: The White House / Tia DUFOUR

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