CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The American Nurses Association says one in 10 nurses is addicted to drugs and may be high when treating your loved ones.
It is a story that will shock you, and the nurse telling it knows that-- that’s why she’s asked us to hide her identity.
She wants her story told in hopes of helping others but doesn’t want her three kids to pay the price.
“Do you remember the first time that you reached into the cabinet or crossed the line?”
“Absolutely, I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said.
She is a wife, a mother of three, and a longtime labor and delivery nurse in Charlotte.
“I love taking care of patients, it’s my life, it’s my career, it’s my dream job.”
And she stole drugs from the hospital where she worked to feed her addiction.
“What were you on?”
“Oh goodness, what haven’t I been on?”
Like so many addiction stories, hers starts after she underwent surgery and realized the prescribed drugs made her lifelong battle with anxiety a little bit easier to handle.
She says she first got the drugs by taking advantage of a common hospital process called “wasting”. That's when a doctor orders a certain amount of a drug-- sometimes more than what the patient needs-- and the nurse is responsible for getting rid of, or “wasting”, the leftover.
She vividly remembers that first time she got home and realized she had drugs in her pocket.
“Do you remember what you were thinking?"
"I wasn’t. I had no idea at that moment this was about to be the hardest journey of my life.”
But soon she’d built up a tolerance and the “waste” wasn’t enough. She’d moved to Dilaudid, a very powerful opiate-- so powerful it’s used when putting bones back into place.
“At this point, you were literally just stealing drugs?”
“What are you thinking at that point?”
“Hopeless. You come to a point where you no longer care about yourself, it’s no longer fun, not doing it to get high, doing it because you have to. Because without it, you’re so sick you can’t get out of bed.”
And as a nurse, it was fairly easy to find her next fix.
“It’s so accessible. The thing people don’t understand is that nurses-- it's right there at out fingertips, and being someone prone to addictions, knew medications reacted different in my system, once I found out that I could use these stronger drugs and I had all of it right here in front of me.”
“How were you able to steal the drugs from the cabinet? Nobody ever saw you?"
"No, well, you have a login and your fingerprint, and I would just go in and take it out under different patient names or put in that it was an MD order.”
And she got away with it-- for a month.
“Were there times you were working with patients and you were high?"
“Tons of guilt and tons of regret during that time,” she admitted.
“Do you feel like peoples' lives were in danger?"
"I personally don’t… that’s not really something…”
Not something she wants to talk about. But her bosses did.
“I was escorted into a boardroom and confronted that I had taken over a hundred vials of Dilaudid in the last two weeks."
“It is an unbelievable amount. To be honest, looking back on it now, a sigh of relief-- cause at this point there was no-- it was a cry for help.”
She lost her job but got help the very next day at CMC’s rehab program, First Step.
She’s now been clean since 2012 and spent three years earning her nursing license back. She is again working at an area hospital and hopes sharing her story helps others because her story is more common than you’d think; the American Nurses Association says one in 10 nurses is addicted to drugs.
One of the higher ups at CMC says she is grateful this nurse is speaking out.
“I think she’s a hero, she has a lot of risk in telling that story.”
“Should you be allowed to have that job again after what you went through?”
“I think, yeah. I think people make mistakes. I think we make bad judgment calls, and if you work hard, do what you’re supposed to, yeah, you should have your dream job back.”
Something else we uncovered: nurses who graduated in the top third of their class or hold higher responsibility roles are at higher risk to develop substance abuse issues.