9 Investigates

9 Investigates opioid addiction among nurses

ORLANDO, Fla. — The opioid crisis has a tremendous grip across the country, including Central Florida.

Addiction has even affected those who provide medical care. Dozens of nurses have gotten into trouble for getting high on the job.

Audiences watched the downward spiral of a pill-popping nurse on the fictional television show "Nurse Jackie." The plot has become a reality in Florida.

"Often it is in the hospital or in a care setting," said Denny Kolsch, who knows all about addiction. "And opioids was really the thing that took away my anxiety. It took away any physical pain, emotional pain."

His four-year-long opioid dependence cost him up to $300 daily, but he finally broke the habit.

"I was at a low point, and I wanted change, so I accepted that help," he said.

Kolsch now works toward treating others as director of Peace Club, an opioid recovery center in Brevard County.

An increasing number of nurses are among those seeking treatment for addiction to painkillers.

"If you have a history of opioid use disorder, and now you're a nurse and you have opioids at your disposal, and you're dispensing them throughout the day or administering them, you're going to pretty much be triggered all day long," Kolsch said.

Dozens of nursing professionals in Florida are in danger of losing their licenses because of opioids.

In 2017, more than 100 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses or nursing assistants were placed on emergency restriction or suspension for stealing or using drugs, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and morphine.

In March, a Brevard County nurse was arrested after deputies said she stole 67 vials of fentanyl.

Reports said some nurses were so high at work that they could barely talk or function.

"There's a program called IPN, which helps nurses who have misused opioids in the workplace," Kolsch said.

The Intervention Project for Nurses, which is under contract with the Florida Department of Health, provides some nurses the help they need.

Channel 9 asked FDOH if more help is needed, but it hasn't received a response.

More funding is needed overall, Kolsch said.

"There's just such a need," he said. "We're just barely tapping into it."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last month awarded the state of Florida an additional $27 million in federal funding aimed at helping to combat the opioid crisis.