Addiction group wants non-penal approaches for nurse substance abuse problems

Share this content:

Healthcare facilities should adopt an “alternative-to-discipline” approach when treating nursing staff with substance abuse disorders, according to a new policy statement from the International Nurses Society on Addictions.

Alternatives to discipline should focus on the goals of rehabilitation, retention and re-entry into “safe, professional practice,” instead of the traditional “moral or criminal model” the group said in the April/June issue of Journal of Addictions Nursing, its official journal.

The rehabilitation aspect may include residential or outpatient programs, therapy and drug testing while refraining from practice, the statement reads. Return-to-work agreements could mean restricted work hours and assignments, continued treatment and monitoring for up to five years. Providers are also encouraged to educate nurses and other employees on substance abuse, and establish policies to promote drug-free workplaces.

The statement also stresses that “drug diversion, in the context of personal use, is viewed primarily as a symptom of a serious and treatable disease and not exclusively as a crime.”

"When viewed and treated as a chronic medical illness, treatment outcomes for substance use disorders are comparable to those of other diseases … and can result in lasting benefits,” the statement's authors wrote.