Drug addiction in Hampton Roads doesn’t exclude medical professionals

Posted at 11:00 PM, Nov 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-18 23:24:48-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Prescription drug abuse is rampant throughout Virginia.

It affects all walks of life – including those in the medical profession.

News 3 dug through dozens and dozens of cases from the area where nurses and other medical professionals were caught abusing drugs and getting into trouble.

"As a nurse, I had an unlimited supply of medication right there,” said one nurse who did not want to be identified.

She said a personal injury caused her to take prescription medication.

“I immediately thought this is the best thing, this is what I've been looking for,” she said.

Weeks turned into months and months turned into a terrible addiction, she said.

“I could no longer get the medications from the physician. I began to take them from work,” she said.

This mother had devoted her life to helping and treating patients.

At first, she said getting pills wasn't a problem and over the course of two years she said the addiction got out of control.

“I would do anything that included stealing from patients I was entrusted to care for,” she said.

She isn’t the only one.

News 3 went through reports from the Virginia Department of Health Professions.

A nurse in Gloucester found face down on a medication cart tested positive for opioids, according to a report.

Another nurse in Smithfield had slurred speech and her eyes were rolling back in her head, according to state records. The day before, hospital leaders found an empty bottle of pills, a crack pipe and a razor blade near her car. She said they weren't hers but her license was suspended, according to the report.

Another nurse was arrested and accused of stealing drugs in Williamsburg and it wasn't the first time - she had been in trouble two years prior for 15 counts of prescription fraud.

People who spent years studying to becoming qualified were now putting their license and freedom on the line.

In many cases, it’s co-workers who notice a problem.

Director of Sentara Pharmacy Jon Horton said, “We also rely on our staff to identify impaired individuals.”

Sentara Officials brought News 3 inside one of their hospitals to show us how drugs are secured.

They showed us how only qualified employees are allowed inside a locked room. They use a badge, a password and a fingerprint to get the proper medication.

They said medications that nurses are taking to patients are strictly tracked.

Sentara Pharmacy Manager Kemi Olatunji said, “We are monitoring every single tablet, syringe, IV from the time it enters our facility to the time it’s administered.”

They also compare what each nurse is giving out.

“We can also see when you’ve been administrating medication when your peers have not been, we’d say wait what is going on here,” said Horton.

According to the Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring:

In 2015, 576 Virginians died from a prescription opioid overdose, 342 from a heroin overdose, and 224 from an overdose of fentanyl. Through the first six months of 2016, at least 213 Virginians have died from a fatal prescription opioid overdose, 103 from a heroin overdose, and 136 from a fentanyl overdose.

There is a strong link between misuse of prescription opioids, opioid addiction, and even later use of heroin once prescriptions become too expensive or are no longer accessible. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • Half of young people who used heroin got started by abusing prescription opioids.
  • One in fifteen individuals who misuse prescription opioid painkillers will try heroin within 10 years.
  • The number of opioid prescriptions has nearly tripled over the last 25 years, and the United States now accounts for nearly 100 percent of the world's hydrocodone prescriptions and 81 percent for oxycodone.
  • The number of Americans abusing heroin nearly doubled from 2007 to 2012, with nearly 700,000 now abusing heroin.
  • In Virginia, abuse and overdose deaths continue to rise:
    • Prescription opioid overdose deaths have risen 44 percent between 2007 and 2015, from 399 deaths to 576.
    • Heroin overdose deaths have risen more than 600 percent between 2010 and 2015, from 48 to 342.
    • Fentanyl deaths have risen 367 percent from 2007 to 2015, from 48 to 224.
    • More than 500 people went to a Virginia emergency room from a heroin overdose in the first four months of 2016, a 250% increase over 2015.  

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