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Drug abuse by medical personnel could lead to medical errors

It’s not an exaggeration to say that prescription drug addiction is an epidemic, in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation. Those with easy access to the drugs, health care workers, pose a risk not only to themselves but to patients. Impaired practitioners can be more prone to making mistakes such as medication errors that endanger patient health.

Nurses, doctors, anesthesiologists, technicians and other medical workers who struggle with drug addiction become skilled in stealing narcotics designated for patients for their own use. Among other things, this can lead to medication errors, administering an incorrect drug, prescription errors, or dosage errors.

One of the most dramatic examples of the harm addicted medical workers can cause is a recent outbreak of hepatitis that affected 8,000 patients across eight states. A technician who took temporary jobs in multiple hospitals had diverted intravenous pain drugs intended to relieve patient suffering. Even worse than administering the wrong drug, he replaced the medication with saline and reused the syringes, spreading his hepatitis infection. He is not the only health care worker to do this. Drug addicted health care personnel have caused three hepatitis outbreaks in the past five years.

Not all medical errors by narcotics addled professionals result in widespread infection. Many are one off errors: failure to read a doctor’s handwriting properly, surgical errors, or improper use of medical equipment, which can cause grievous injury to individual patients.

U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration data indicates that over 100,000 health care workers abuse drugs. Other studies estimate the number could be as high as 10 percent of all medical professionals. Because of their medical knowledge, these workers are often better at hiding their addictions, which may only come to light after a medication error or other patient injury.

Patients injured by negligent medical professionals deserve compensation. An attorney specializing in medical malpractice can be your best ally if you are the victim of a medication error or other injury at the hands of health care personnel.

Source: KTVB, “Doctors, medical staff on drugs put patients at risk,” by Peter Eisler, USA TODAY, April 16, 2014

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