Nursing Chemical Dependency & Allegations Of Chemical Use

Chemical Dependency

Nurses are the unsung heroes of the medical profession — often overlooked and under-appreciated, but absolutely necessary to run any hospital, doctor’s office or surgical center. With so much riding on their shoulders, it perhaps isn’t surprising that many nurses turn to substances to cope with increasing levels of stress in their jobs. However, any type of chemical dependency can not only put your career and professional license at risk — it can jeopardize patient safety.

If you are struggling with chemical dependency, you’re not alone. An estimated one in five nurses will develop a dependency on drugs or alcohol over the course of his or her career. There is help — both for your addiction and for any issues that may arise with your license.

Using alcohol and/or drugs as a nurse can have an impact on your ability to take care of your patients safely. For this reason, a complaint about any type of chemical dependency may result in negative consequences for your professional license. An experienced California professional license defense attorney can advocate on your behalf to help you achieve the best possible outcome for your case.

Common Causes of Chemical Dependency in Nursing

The practice of nursing can be incredibly stressful. While the career itself can be rewarding, dealing with demands from patients, colleagues, and supervisors can be overwhelming. When you devote your life to caring for others, you may leave little time to take care of yourself.

Addiction has complex roots, with genetics being a strong factor in many cases. For nurses, however, there may be additional factors at play that can lead to chemical dependency. This may include:

  • Rising workloads
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Fatigue from working 12 hours (or longer) shifts
  • Stress from providing physical and emotional support to patients and families
  • Accessibility of drugs
  • Working out of ratio
  • Emotional and/or physical injuries that haven’t fully healed
  • Coping with personal tragedies
  • Loss of a patient 

Whatever the cause may be, nurses who misuse alcohol or drugs put themselves and their patients in harm’s way. Working while impaired, hungover, or in withdrawal may severely limit a nurse’s ability to safely care for patients. This is particularly true when a crisis occurs.

One of the challenges facing many nurses who struggle with chemical dependency is the fear of seeking help. Admitting that you have a problem can be difficult for anyone, but when you hold a nursing license, it can mean losing your profession — at least for a period of time. Working with a skilled professional license defense attorney can help you seek help while protecting your license.

How the Board Intervenes

The Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) regulates nurses who hold licenses under California law. This includes disciplining nurses for unprofessional conduct that could adversely impact their ability to safely function as a nurse. This includes using drugs or alcohol illegally, such as sustaining an arrest or conviction due to consumption (such as a DUI), or in a way that threatens the public, or even relying on prescription opioid pain medication when providing care to patients.

If an individual suspects that a nurse is under the influence of drugs or alcohol in a way that impacts their ability to safely function as a nurse, they may file a complaint with the BRN.

If the investigation shows that a nurse has violated the Nursing Practice Act (NPA), and it warrants formal disciplinary action, further steps will be taken. The Office of the Attorney General will review the case, and the BRN will file an Accusation, which will be heard by the Office of Administrative Hearings. Minor violations are handled through an information citation and fine process, which are issued by the BRN’s Executive Officer. The BRN regulates its licensees. In some situations, eligible nurses may qualify for the BRN Intervention Program, an alternative to the disciplinary process.

Options to Resolve Allegations of Chemical Use

After a complaint is filed, the Board may review employment, medical, and/or court records. After their review of records, an investigator from the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) or the BRN may request a written statement or for the nurse to participate in an interview. The investigator may advise you that the interview process is an informal process. It is not. The DCA investigator is a law enforcement official tasked to investigate whether there has been a violation of the NPA.

If an investigation reveals that a nurse has violated the NPA, then it may be resolved in one of several ways. First, if the violation is considered minor, then a citation and fine may be issued; the fine will generally be from $0 to $2,500 but may reach as high as $5,000. A nurse can contest the citation and fine through an informal or formal appeals process. A citation is not discipline, it is an administrative fine in lieu of discipline. Citations are not published on the BRN’s website, nor on the nurses’ Breeze profile, however, citations can be disclosed to the public upon request. Citations are not required to be disclosed (unless otherwise stated), and payment of the fine is not considered an admission to the allegation. 

If the violation is considered to be a serious violation, then the matter is forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office for review and preparation of an Accusation, listing the legal charges against the nurse. This is a formal process that may result in discipline to the Nursing License. 

Protect Your Most Valuable Asset: Your Nursing License

Are you worried about losing your nursing license? Issues with chemical dependency can impact your nursing license and jeopardize your ability to make a living.

At the Law Office of Nicole Irmer, we represent healthcare practitioners, including nurses, fight to keep their licenses. We can represent you in the criminal courtroom and throughout the California BRN investigative and disciplinary process. To schedule an initial consultation, please contact us today or call (619) 237-6130.