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Substance abuse among hospital staff may endanger patient care

Although readers may expect this medical malpractice blog to occasionally address medication errors, today’s entry highlights a different medication concern: prescription drug dependency among doctors, nurses and other medical staff. 

According to data released in 2007 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated average of 103,000 health care professionals may have an illicit drug abuse or dependency issue. For some of those professionals, drug diversion -- using patient medications for personal use -- may supply their addiction.

Given the volume of patients seen in many hospitals and clinics, even a single impaired health care professional might present a large-scale patient risk. The media has highlighted several recent cases of medical staff diverting patient medication in syringes, resulting in hepatitis C outbreaks.

Yet even when the risk is more confined in scope, it may nevertheless be potentially serious or lead to tragedy. It’s easy to imagine how a surgeon operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol might commit a serious or even fatal surgical error.

In legal terms, hospital negligence is one term used to describe an injury that may have been prevented or avoided if reasonable care had been provided to the injured patient. Indeed, an attorney that focuses on medical malpractice litigation knows that many jurors might agree that drug diversion could be an example of hospital negligence.

An attorney can help build a case that demonstrates to a jury any deficiencies in the care provided by a medical professional. An attorney can also work to present the facts in a clear and convincing way, enlisting expert testimony and other evidence that may convince a jury that a patient’s injuries were caused by medical negligence.

Source: USA Today, "Doctors, medical staff on drugs put patients at risk," Peter Eisler, April 17, 2014

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