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Hospitals take hard line against drug abuse
9/2/2009
 
Healthcare professionals are more likely than the general population to be addicted to drugs, perhaps because they have easier access. The truth is not lost on area hospitals which often rely on camera surveillance and tight controls to keep the problem in check.

Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System has “zero tolerance” for illegal drug use, says Denise Hollis, director of employee health. Anyone caught using, selling, or stealing drugs is terminated and reported to the state licensing board, she said. Employees who ask for help are referred to treatment, she says in a recent article on GreenvilleOnline.com.

The article adds that while 10% of the general population is addicted to alcohol or drugs, that number rises to at least 12% among healthcare workers, with some estimates higher, according to Frank Sheheen, director of the South Carolina Recovering Professional Program. Mr. Sheheen says the number of clients is going up about 10% a year. In the past couple of years, the program has had about 240 new admissions annually, compared to about 130 a year before then.

Most clients in the recovering professionals program have abused prescription drugs – 60% of them opiates, followed by the benzodiazepines, like Valium, Sheheen said. Others abuse alcohol or other prescription drugs, such as Ritalin, he said. Street drugs account for about 1% of clients, he said.

GreenvilleOnline.com reports professionals in the program must attend three self-help meetings a week and undergo random drug tests for five years. About 85% successfully complete the program, though not always the first time, it adds.

Last year, South Carolina licensing boards disciplined 12 doctors and 158 nurses for drug problems. The state Bureau of Drug Control arrests about 500 people each year for prescription drug abuse, said Thom Berry, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. In 2007, 41 of them were registered nurses, 14 were licensed practical nurses, 29 pharmacy technicians, 11 pharmacists and seven physicians, he said.

“Area hospitals say they don't tolerate illicit drug use by employees and have measures in place, such as pre-employment drug testing and criminal background checks, to weed out abusers. But occasionally, they have to fire employees for drug offenses,” GreenvilleOnline.com says.

Doug Dorman, vice president of human resources for Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center, is quoted as saying “we keep very close controls over drugs, including camera surveillance, and we change our systems and implement best practices. But there's not a system in this world that mankind can't figure out how to get around.”