Treat nurses who steal drugs like addicts, not thieves, conference told

Nurses who misuse prescription drugs recover better if they are treated like addicts rather than thieves, an addictions conference in Lisbon heard.

Nurses who misuse prescription drugs recover better if they are treated like addicts rather than thieves, Scandinavian research shows.

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Researchers in Norway interviewed ten nurses, aged 35 to 55, who lost their licence to practise as a nurse after stealing prescription drugs from their employers.

The findings were presented to an international conference on addictions in Lisbon at which experts from 71 countries, including the UK, are meeting this week to share and debate research.


Oda Sjovoll, project manager and adviser at Akan Competence Center, which covers work-related addiction and drug problems, told Lisbon Addictions 2017: ‘Imagine you are a nurse and you have stolen from your employer because you have an addiction and you are desperate, and you still get help from your employer and get to keep your job.

'That is the case for some of these women in this study.’

Drug use is the main reason nurses lose their licence in Norway, according to Ms Sjovoll.

The study found difficult or stressful situations ultimately led the nurses interviewed to misuse prescription drugs.


The researchers also found that some nurses stole a drug to manage a stressful situation, because they had experience of its mood-boosting properties from using it as a painkiller in the past.

Ms Sjovoll told the conference: ‘It’s mainly the stealing – not the use or misuse of prescription drugs – that leads to the loss of their licence.’

She said the way in which employers handle the initial interactions and subsequent meetings with the affected employee is the most important factor in their recovery, and potentially their return to work.


Some of the nurses had been labelled a ‘thief’ by managers on opening discussions over the drug misuse, but those who were treated as addicts had better outcomes, Ms Sjovoll said.

At the time of the interviews for the study, five nurses had regained their licence after proving they had abstained from prescription drug misuse for at least two years.

Two of the nurses returned to the same workplace they had stolen from because they were fully supported. Another nurse did not return to her original workplace but was able to start nursing again due to the support of the employer from whom she had stolen drugs.

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