Southern Voice: Anonymous
Nurses. They’re the epitome of caring. The ones who are there for you from the time you’re born until you take your last breath. The ones who take care of others far better than they take care of themselves. The ones who laugh with you, cry with you, hold your hand when you are scared. But there’s a disease that nurses commonly struggle with: addiction.
Did you know there are over 4 million nurses in the United States, and 10-15% of those are recovering from drug and alcohol abuse? The American Nurses Association estimates there are currently 6-8% of practicing nurses who have some sort of substance abuse/addiction problem. For some the addiction may have begun as a treatment for another ailment, like back pain or a work injury. For others the addiction is the primary problem. Nurses are not immune to the effects of the job … the death, trauma and disease. How do I know? I am a nurse. I am also recovering nurse.
I began my nursing career over 20 years ago. About 15 years ago I was diagnosed with ADD and depression. I was started on medications and sent on my way. During this time, I worked at a prestigious hospital doing what I loved. I took care of many people, started many programs, saved many lives, stared death in the face sometimes daily, but one day I found myself without a job. Someone came to me and, due to cutbacks, I could no longer do the job that I loved. I was devastated. Pure, soulful, earth-shattering devastation. I cried for weeks. Every time I saw the logo of the hospital I would begin ugly girl sobbing.
So I started over. A new hospital. New staff. New everything. And yes, working nights. Let me say this, I am downright evil when I work nights. I can not sleep during the day, which just left me sleep deprived and ill. I’m definitely a girl who likes her sleep. This is when the addiction began. Because I wasn’t sleeping, I took double doses of my ADD meds to make it through. But that would leave me short for the month, so I would go to another doctor and get them to write me another script, and because they knew me, they never suspected anything was amiss. Then when those pills were gone, I would go to yet another doctor. I began to get really good at manipulating the system to get what I needed to get through the day. Did I think I had an addiction? Hell no. I was trying to live on very little sleep, and I thought of it like coffee … something to keep me going. But the downward spiral had already begun.
I soon began stealing prescription pads. Forging medications and signatures. Going to different pharmacies sometimes in different cities just to get them filled. But it was a prescription … I wasn’t an addict. I had a legit medical diagnosis.
One day I was at work and got a call from a detective. I instantly knew why he was calling. They had been alerted to some suspicious activity from a local pharmacy. Once they probed, they saw I was getting 60, 90, sometimes 120 pills a month. Houston, we have a problem.
“One day I was at work and got a call from a detective. I instantly knew why he was calling.”
I landed in court with over 54 counts of fraud, obtaining a controlled substance without a legal prescription and forgery. It wasn’t until then I truly saw the problem. I was a mess, and that phone call might have saved my life. I began the long uphill battle with sobriety. I started taking care of myself, something I really hadn’t been good at doing.
Ten years later, I am still recovering. My medications have been tweaked, and I am closely monitored, but I am alive. I can’t say that for some, as more than 63,000 people died of overdoses in 2016, and most are from prescription drugs. Even just this week I lost a friend and fellow nurse to an overdose.
We nurses are not immune to addictions. We are not immune to what we see and deal with daily. We are not immune to life and the struggles that ensue. There is no cure for this disease. No vaccine for addiction. Sometimes I wish there was.
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