Addiction is a disease, and nurses may be more susceptible to it due to the access they have to controlled substances in the course of their work. If the temptation becomes too great to bear, they may co-opt pill bottles from a narcotic cabinet, dispensary or pharmacy. The term for this specific type of activity is drug diversion. In other words, the nurse diverts the medication from the patients who should receive them.

Why does drug diversion take place?

Some of the most common reasons nurses may engage in drug diversion include the following:

  • Selling the drugs for financial gain
  • Supplying the drugs to another user
  • Using the drugs personally

What are the consequences for patients?

A nurse who uses the drugs he or she has diverted may be more likely to make medical mistakes due to impairment. Patients may suffer as a result of these mistakes. However, sometimes drug diversion affects patients more directly. A nurse may sometimes divert the drugs from the patient’s dosage, preventing the patient from receiving the prescribed amount of medication and causing unnecessary pain. There have also been documented cases of nurses exposing patients to bloodborne illnesses by injecting themselves before injecting the patient with the same needle.

What are the consequences for nurses?

The penalties that a nurse may face for drug diversion can be extremely severe. The nurse not only could lose his or her job but could also potentially face nursing license revocation as well. A patient who suffers as a result of the diversion may bring a medical malpractice lawsuit, and criminal prosecution is also a possibility.

Whatever the other consequences may be, drug diversion can cause profound reputational damage to the nurse. It can take a long time and significant effort on the nurse’s part to regain his or her good name, and in some cases, the reputational damage may be irreversible.