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Impaired health care professionals pose risks to patients

Patients have to have a certain level of trust in their doctors, nurses and other health care providers. Otherwise, they would never be able to place their lives in these medical professionals' hands.

But in some cases, that trust may not be warranted. Intoxicated and impaired health care professionals often cause their patients irreparable harm. They may fail to diagnose ailments, prescribe the wrong treatment course or medication or even operate on the wrong limb or organ. The havoc they wreak can be devastating to the patients, their families and their survivors when the worst occurs.

How can patients tell if their nurses or doctors aren't sober? Often, they can't — which is the crux of the problem. But there may be potential signs that all is not well. Below are some red flags:

  • Difficulty recalling details
  • Personality changes
  • Work absences
  • Unreliability in keeping appointments
  • Elaborate excuses
  • Problems concentrating
  • Severe mood swings
  • Long sleeves when it's hot
  • Visible intoxication or impairment

Colleagues are often the first to know when something is off with a co-worker. They may also notice that there are warning signs or unusual behaviors that could indicate that opioid drugs are being illegally diverted.

Below are some indicators of drug diversion:

  • Often volunteers to administer narcotics to patients
  • Uses more drugs per patient than colleagues do
  • Records of anesthesia administered and dispensed conflict with patient orders
  • Reports high levels of wasted opioid drugs
  • Patients report uncontrolled pain after surgery and anesthesia
  • Makes inappropriate drug choices and dosages for patients
  • Improper storage of medications, syringes and needles
  • Indications of tampering to vials of drugs
  • Prescription pads disappear
  • Drugs go missing

It's likely that all the signs will not be apparent — but a cluster of them may. If you have any reason to believe that a health care professional's impairment contributed to your worsened condition, you owe it to yourself and future patient victims to take legal action.

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