Rehab in New Jersey sees all kinds of people come through. Musicians, chefs, veterans, men, women, gay, straight, young, old; substance use disorder discriminates against no one. It truly is an equal opportunity illness that threatens sober living in New Jersey. We never think of people that are supposed to help people as part of the crowd that would face addiction, but recently nurses told their stories in The Star, a Canadian newspaper revealing that addiction can start in extremely unexpected ways.
Anne, 59 years old, recalls how she had a ruptured appendix that had been mostly manageable pain-wise, but one day at work 6 years after being treated, “I got this attack of pain and I just helped myself to opioids at work, thinking I could get through my shift. I knew I was doing something wrong, so ethically, it was really soul-destroying.” Revealing the guilt she harbored over the entire ordeal, “You rationalize and justify it, but once you take the drug, the drug sort of takes you…and I struggled off and on with that all my life.”
In Canada, an organization recently formed called the Nurses Health Program, which aims to identify nurses who are suffering from addiction while protecting their confidentiality. The aim is to encourage nurses to seek help “earlier than they otherwise would have” than they would under a more adversarial system, such as America’s lingering ‘War on Drugs’ policies, which essentially operates in such a way that criminalizes people with addiction. The organization, which operates through the College of Nurses of Ontario, says they have believe the nearly 60 of on average 144,000 per year reported as ‘incapacitated’ could be just the tip of the iceberg. 91% of those aren’t self reports, which puts major concern on the nature of how many might be dissuaded from seeking treatment.
In 2010, the University of Alberta’s Diane Kunyk held a survey of over 4,000 registered nurses and three percent reported they were addicted to drugs or alcohol and most had never reported to their employers they were struggling with a problem. Compounding the problem is that interviews revealed many nurses had very little understanding of addiction or even how to identify it, whether with themselves or with a patient.
“That makes it a lot harder for people to actually seek help because they don’t know what they’re going to be coming up against,” says Dr. Yelena Chorna, an addiction physician at the Homewood Health Centre in Guelph, a treatment center specifically for health-care professionals.
As understanding of addiction and the nature of addiction continues to disperse throughout the medical community as well as the general public, it’s only a matter of time before the entire punishment model is upended and turned into a medical condition which is focused on helping, rather than harming, people who are suffering from the illness.