In response to the Nurse Safety Topic, I would like to add that another safety problem, one not always discussed in the context of "Caring for Those Who Care," is the frequent contact nurses have with potentially dangerous drugs such as narcotics. One reason nurses are at risk for self-medicating or abusing drugs, such as opiates, is because of the musculoskeletal problems discussed in this topic. Other factors include excessive overtime, the stress and perceived strain of nursing which includes intensive caregiving, night shift work, and frequent access to addictive medications. Nurses are not taught to be as careful with controlled substances as they are with radioactive substances.
This workplace hazard of misusing controlled substances needs to be addressed along with the other safety matters of importance to nurses. A simple way to cut down on drug diversion, which occurs when a nurse takes a drug from the hospital or patient supply for herself or himself, is to require that nurses will witness the drug wastages they sign for. In addition, all states should offer educational and support programs which decrease misuse of narcotics and protect nurses, such as Statewide Peer Assistance for Nurses (SPAN) of New York. This type of resource for all licensed RNs and LPNs with alcohol and/or other drug related problems is found in many states in the US, but not yet in all states. These programs can contribute significantly to the safety of all nurses, keeping them at the bedside and in the health care work force.
Patricia Maher-Brisen MSN, APRN, BC
Outreach Nurse, Statewide Peer Assistance for Nurses (SPAN)
New York State Nurses Association