‘Nurse Jackie’ returned for a final season on Showtime on Sunday night and once again received praise for its realistic portrayal of addiction. At the start of last season, I asked an expert about the chances that I’d ever receive care from an addicted medical professional and if I did, would she still be able to handle the job.
The answer, from Lisa J. Merlo, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Florida who has studied the prevalence and impact of drug abuse among medical professionals, was basically: It’s not likely. And if it happens, that nurse’s or doctor’s skills probably will still be intact.
Research, including Merlo’s, shows that docs and nurses are a lot like the rest of the population when it comes to drug addiction — they become addicted at similar rates. Of course, they have much better access to the drugs they want; one study shows that they obtain them by “stealing from the office or hospital, by defrauding patients and insurers, by using medication samples and by misusing valid prescriptions.” (The prescription drug abuse epidemic among patients has narrowed the access gap.)
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