Growing number of local nurses becoming addicted to opioids, records show

WATCH: Growing number of local nurses becoming addicted to opioids, records show

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There is a new face in the opioid crisis.

The nurses who take care of you or your loved ones may be hiding an addiction.

A nurse in recovery spoke to FOX13. She asked that we not use her real name but only call her ‘Sophie.’

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For Sophie, the profession of nursing “felt like it gave me purpose, God’s purpose.”

A licensed nurse for 12 years, Sophie said one of the doctors she worked for introduced her to opioids.

The recreational use became more frequent and then addiction took over.

“Eventually I took narcotics from work and was caught. And was charged with obtaining narcotic by fraud,” said Sophie.

FOX13 asked her if she believes patient care suffered because of her addiction.

“I would be foolish to say no it didn’t. Yes, it did. It had to have. There was no way that I could use opioids,” Sophie said.

FOX13 Investigates examined one year of disciplinary reports for nurses in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.

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According to the records, 114 nurses had their license either revoked or suspended after they tested positive for narcotics, admitted to being addicted or punished for mishandling narcotics.

Deena Coleman is a nurse with 12 years in recovery who helps addicts – including medical professionals – get sober at Turning Point Addiction campuses.

FOX13 asked Coleman how widespread the problem is.

“I would say 20 to 25 percent of nurses probably have an addiction problem. I don’t know, 20 to 25 percent are seeking treatment. But it would be my guess,” said Coleman.

Coleman told FOX13 many nurses, like Sophie, get hooked while on the job.

They take opioids despite strict guidelines and controls in place to prevent theft and misuse.

“We are very bright people. We can figure out how to get what we want. And I think nurses see things lying around. They see how things go.

“And it takes them a very short time to say, ‘Okay, that would be easy to pick up and put in my pocket.’”

If caught, they face strict punishment from the state medical boards – even for nurses who either admit to an addiction or test positive to drugs.

For example, in Mississippi, nurses may be required to show one year of document sobriety – which includes drug testing – followed by employment supervision, AA or NA meetings for up to 72 months.

The punishment is tough, but fair, said Sophie.

“They make it difficult for you to get your license back. Yes, it is fair. You are taking care of people,” said Sophie.

Sophie said “life now is fantastic” since she has confronted her addiction.

She wants to return to nursing after being clean and sober for nearly six years and is ready to take refresher courses to get her nurses license reinstated.

“There is absolutely hope,” said Sophie.