Substance abuse can be an occupational hazard for nurses and other medical professionals who have access to addictive drugs. Unfortunately, substance abuse can derail a nurse from practicing competently, especially if it affects the ability to think critically at a high level. It can also sometimes pit nurses against their patients.
In some cases, nurses divert drugs from patients to themselves. In others, they may forge prescriptions to get the drugs they need. Either activity could result in criminal charges and loss of your professional license.
Ideally, nurses who suffer from substance use disorders would recognize their problem and get help before they get to the point of a criminal charge or a serious licensing issue. Due to changes in the brain caused by addiction, it can become increasingly difficult to stop using drugs as time passes.
Unfortunately, many people with substance use disorders do not get help until they are faced with the prospect of losing their license or going to jail. However, it may not be too late.
The Board of Nursing has options for addicted nurses
For example, the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing has the authority to suspend or revoke a nurse’s license if:
“The licensee is unable to practice professional nursing with reasonable skill and safety to patients by reason of mental or physical illness or condition or physiological or psychological dependence upon alcohol, hallucinogenic or narcotic drugs or other drugs which tend to impair judgment or coordination, as long as such dependence shall continue.”
However, under its Impaired Professionals Program, the board can defer disciplinary action as long as the nurse signs an agreement with the board, enters into an approved substance abuse program and makes adequate progress. While that is an improvement over times past when little consideration was given to people facing addiction, you should consult an attorney before entering into any such agreement. There could be parts of the agreement that are unnecessary or unsuitable to you that an attorney could eliminate.
There may also be options for the criminal charges
If you have been accused of a crime like drug diversion or theft, you may be facing jail time. Depending on the specific type of crime charged, along with your criminal history, you could be eligible for a diversion program. If you successfully complete a diversion program, the charges against you could be dropped.
If you are facing criminal charges that could affect your nursing license, it is important to ensure that your defense attorney understands how to defend both the criminal charges and the licensing issues.