July 9, 2013

In My Opinion: Nurses can recover from addiction


---- — This letter is in response to recent articles in the Press-Republican reporting the arrests of nurses on charges of drug diversion, a behavioral symptom of a disease called addiction.

Addiction is a progressive, chronic, often fatal disease process. Ironically, although the No. 1 public-health problem in our society today, it is poorly understood and mired in stigma.

Misconceptions include that the affected person is weak, undisciplined or lacks willpower.

Science demonstrates that addiction is a brain disease, a mal-adaptation of the reward system in the brain. Simply put, alcohol and other drugs alter the brain, its chemistry and how it functions.

Recovery from this disease, like other chronic illnesses, requires treatment time, and perseverance.

The behaviors elicited by people who are addicted are symptoms reflective of their disease. Diabetes, hypertension and coronary artery disease are examples of other common chronic illnesses for which behavior affects the disease progression, in those cases diet, stress management and activity.

The articles portray a one-sided view of nurses charged as a criminal instead of as human beings with the chronic illness of addiction.

Subsequent to these incidents, some nurses have sought support and treatment and has begun to develop a solid and rich life of recovery from their opiate addiction.

They are still competent nurses and useful members of society. Should we not congratulate them on their ability to fight their way back from this devastating disease, rather than vilify them for behavior symptomatic of a disease process?

The Statewide Peer Assistance for Nurses Program is a free, confidential support and advocacy program available to all nurses licensed in New York state.

Statewide Peer Assistance for Nurses and the New York State Education Department’s Professional Assistance Program are two programs working with nurses with addictions and less severe substance-use disorders.

Research indicates that 15 to 20 percent of nurses have substance-use disorders. We consider it an occupational hazard due to a variety of risk factors.

We know that recovery is possible and that nurses can return to the workforce safely and effectively. Statewide Peer Assistance for Nurses has successfully supported more than 2,000 nurses in their recovery, thus optimizing public safety and the health of nurses.

We respectfully invite and encourage any public-safety and law-enforcement agency and the State’s Attorney General’s Office to engage in a dialogue with us about our program and the assistance we offer to all New York state licensed nurses.

For more information, please contact us at 1-800-45-SPAN-1 or e-mail:

Ellen Brickman is director of the Statewide Peer Assistance for Nurses Program of the New York State Nurses Association.