An age-old problem in the nation’s health sector seems to be getting out of hand, as the number of health care providers becoming addicted to drugs that are meant for their patients is said to be on the rise.
The clandestine practice is said to be one of the biggest challenges facing human resources in the health sector, and authorities receive complaints about cases of addiction involving some nurses, doctors, pharmacists – and even cleaners – daily.
The worrying menace is said to be prevalent in private and public facilities across the country. It came back into sharp focus after two nurses, in just one week, were found dead after being addicts for years. One was a former staff of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in the Ashanti Region – who was sacked after his addiction got the attention of the hospital’s authorities. The other was sanctioned by the Mamprobi Polyclinic in Greater Accra for a similar offence.
Some of the drugs these addicts have hooked up include pethidine and midazolam, both prescription drugs. Some of the addicted health professionals either steal or prescribe them to patients they know do not need them, and later take them back to satisfy their addiction tendency.
President of the Ghana Registered Nurses and Midwives Association (GRNMA), Perpetual Ofori-Ampofo, in an interview with the B&FT, said this development is disturbing, but the most worrying aspect is that there is not enough data.
As a result, the GRNMA will be embarking on a fact-finding mission to ascertain the numbers and put in mitigation measures.
“The issue about pethidine and midazolam addiction has been coming up in the past few weeks, and we have lost two nurses already. We know that these addictions have been there for so many years, but we didn’t know how severe the cases of addiction were becoming in recent times; therefore, as a union, we want to do a general survey of our membership and know the numbers, the regions and districts which have the most cases and why.
“We are also going to work with the manager of health facilities, especially the director of Nursing Services at the Ghana Health Service, to find ways we can pick up information on addiction and find solutions – i.e. protocols that can be followed to help the situation. Currently, such cases have been criminalised and it has not gone well. We want the GHS to help,” Mrs Ofori-Ampofo said in an interview.
She added that: “Addiction is not only for nurses; over the years we have all come to know doctors and all other professionals in the sector who get addicted and run their careers down. This means that there should be national attention on the development, and a holistic approach to deal with it”.
The Chief Nursing and Midwife Officer in the Greater Accra Region, Cecilia Oppong Preprah, added that the move is better late than never, as the record of mental illness among health care professionals linked to addiction is on the rise as well.
According to her, reported cases of addiction to her office are getting out of hand and urgent steps are needed to address the issue head-on.
Pethidine is a strong analgesic for any form of pain. But when wrongly administered or taken in overdose, one portrays the same symptoms as a cocaine or heroin addict. It is an Opioid analgesic drug used to treat pain, particularly after an operation or during childbirth. Pethidine is supplied in the form of a pink ampoule that can be opened, drawn up in a syringe and injected. This is the type of medicine that is prescribed by doctors for patients that suffer from high levels of pain caused by cancer, mental disorders and victims of serious injuries in motor accidents.
It is a relaxing agent that works on the nerves and brain to reduce the pain and stress a patient feels; it has however been found that medical staff are themselves abusing the drug and become addicted to this substance. The immediate effect is that such medical staff pose a severe threat to patients under their care. In some cases, doctors and nurses who are dazed by the drugs can end up harming their patients, or even killing them by administering an overdose of injections or drugs. Reports suggest the drug is being used by doctors and nurses to reduce pain and stress.
Chronic dependence on the drug can also lead to severe organ damage, respiratory depression, infection of the heart, the subsequent collapse of the lungs, and kidney and liver failure.
The Midazolam drug is commonly used by doctors during procedures to sedate patients and relieve their anxiety and agitation. However, it is important to know that inappropriate use of this drug and long-term use of it causes health dangers.
This product has a high potential for misuse, abuse, dependence and addiction. The feelings of relaxation, sedation and wellbeing that Midazolam produces make this drug particularly addictive and prone to misuse.
Midazolam uses vary, and it is prescribed depending on the case of the patient. Presently, Midazolam Versed is prescribed as anaesthesia to sedate patients who are about to undergo medical procedures like pregnancy surgery.
Additionally, doctors also give this drug to treat other conditions such as anxiety. However, this drug is given under strict supervision as it can cause breathing problems.