Nursing Code of Ethics: Should nurses report co-worker drug use?

Reporting a fellow nurse you think has a substance abuse problem should be done in a caring, compassionate way. Ultimately, the nurse needs to be reported to protect her/his life and patients’ lives who are in their care. Tips on reporting nurses with drug use problems here.

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Nurses with addiction problems need help

Most people who went to school to become a nurse did it because they wanted to help others. Nurses are caring, compassionate and they put the needs of others first. But, what happens when the nurse is the one who needs to be cared for. What happens when a nurse falls victim to addiction?

Addiction as taboo among nurses

Unfortunately, a nurse with an addiction is considered “taboo” among their colleagues. Fellow nurses do not know what to do or how to handle it when they suspect a colleague has an addiction. Many nurses choose to remain silent about a nurse they feel may have a substance abuse problem. Some of the reasons nurses may fail to report a co-worker may include:

  • friendship
  • guilt
  • loyalty
  • fear of jeopardizing their colleague’s nursing license

However, we need to realize the reason for reporting is to protect patients, not to punish a fellow nurse and co-worker. Let me provide an example from my own life to help explain.

When I became addicted to narcotics, my co-workers suspected I had a problem, but none of them confronted me. After my addiction came out in the open, they said they thought I had started drinking. I wish they would have confronted me because my addiction kept getting worse and worse. I am very thankful that I never hurt a patient, although ultimately, I did lose my job.

Substance abuse problems in nursing: What to do

So what can you do if you suspect that your colleague has a substance problem that may include alcohol or drugs? Here are two simple suggestions that I offer as part of a responsibility that nurses have to the Nursing Code of Ethics.

1. Talk in private about a possible drug problem

The first thing a nurse should do if s/he suspects a colleague has a substance abuse problem is talk to that nurse in private. When talking to that nurse, it is important to be non-confrontational. Make sure the nurse knows you are concerned about patient safety as well as that nurses well being. If the nurse admits she has a problem, you need to listen to her and then follow through. A big mistake is keeping quiet because the nurse may promise to get help, but then doesn’t. You must make sure the problem gets addressed and the nurse gets help.

2. Report possible drug abuse to a supervisor

If the nurse denies she has a problem, you should report the nurse to your direct supervisor. Nurses must realize they need to report a nurse they suspect has a substance abuse problem because, in the end, the nurse and the patient’s life could depend on it. You must not keep it under the rug.

Nursing Code of Ethics and Addiction

So what do you think? Please send your comments, questions and feedback here. We welcome all points of view.


About the author
Nurse N Recovery has been an RN for 16 years. Most of those years were spent in Critical Care. 4 years ago, she became addicted to narcotics. She is now in drug addiction recovery and has developed a website to help others suffering from addiction.
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