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Health Care Professionals: The Case for Drug Testing

Doctors, nurses, and medical technicians. We rely on them to diagnose medical conditions, prescribe and administer treatment, and save lives. Yet a small percentage of them may actually be putting lives at risk. And now a recent high-profile case is being used to build a case for drug testing health care workers.

David Kwiatkowski, a medical technician and prescription-drug addict who worked in several U.S. hospitals was recently sentenced to 39 years in prison for infecting 45 people with Hepatitis C. Kwiatkowski, who had the virus, would inject fentanyl into his arm, refill the syringe with saline and replace it.

In a recent column for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), an inspector general and special agent who investigated the case issued this call to action:

“All health care workers with access to drugs, including medical doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, radiological technicians and surgical assistants, should be subject to mandatory drug testing.”

Drug use data (cited by USA Today) from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggests over 100,000 health care professionals, including nurses and medical technicians are misusing or abusing prescription drugs. Many of these people turn to narcotic pain relievers to cope with stress, and some experts say a significant number of new medical residents are on ADHD meds.

A few U.S. states are considering subjecting doctors to testing. In response to the Kwiatkowski case, the state of New Hampshire introduced a bill last year that would require, at a minimum, drug testing in reasonable cause scenarios. The state of California is taking it one step further – considering a law that would require hospital doctors to undergo routine drug and alcohol testing. The measure, if approved, would create the first law in the U.S. to require the random drug testing of physicians.

In Canada, the only types of drug testing health care workers typically undergo are return to duty and follow-up testing for those who have gone through treatment for substance abuse problems. These donors are usually entered into testing programs by health care facilities or through programs offered and/or monitored by licensing bodies. Testing is typically conducted under the facility’s or licensing body’s own individual policies. In addition to return to duty and follow up testing, we also see the occasional reasonable cause test.

Aside from these testing scenarios though, it appears there are no universal mandatory testing requirements for the health care worker industry and nothing is visible on the horizon.

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