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Nurses Aren't Immune to Prescription Drug Abuse

 |  By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   April 29, 2014

There's been a rash of headlines involving healthcare workers abusing—and sometimes overdosing and dying from—prescription drugs. Can you spot the addicted nurses in your organization?

In December, a cardiovascular ICU nurse was found dead in the bathroom of a University of Michigan hospital. Months later, The Ann Arbor News reported that she died from an overdose of the opiate fentanyl and the benzodiazepine midazolam, two sedatives that are used for surgical patients.

Prescription painkiller abuse is a huge and growing problem in the United States. In January, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin (D) devoted his entire state of the state address to the Green State's drug addiction crisis, which he said, "started as an Oxycontin and prescription drug addiction problem… [and] has now grown into a full-blown heroin crisis."

The problem is so prevalent in our culture that even the title character on the Showtime series Nurse Jackie, who works at a New York City hospital, is an addict.

According to the CDC, drug overdose rates have more than tripled since 1990. More than 36,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2008, and most of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs. And prescription painkillers specifically were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, more than cocaine and heroin combined, the CDC says.


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Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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