Inadequate licensing oversight of nurses may be putting patients in North Carolina (NC), Virginia (VA) and throughout the United States at risk for serious medication errors and other lapses in health care. An investigation by USA Today and ProPublica found several instances of drug addicted nurses moving easily from or to hospitals in North Carolina. In at least one case “a parent complained that [an addicted nurse] was falling asleep while attempting to insert an IV in her child. A hospital review found that he signed out the painkiller Demerol on dozens of occasions without a physician’s order.”

Impaired, undertrained or simply inattentive nurses are not the only health care providers endangering patients. Statistics published in 2006 show that over a nine-month period, 9,272 medication errors occurred in North Carolina nursing homes. Not every potentially harmful prescription actually reached a patient, but prescribing and administration errors involved hydrocodone, fentanyl and lorazepam.

The issue of medication errors takes on greater significance during July, when often-inexperienced new staff come on board in hospital, nursing homes, walk-in clinics and neighborhood pharmacies have fewer people working.

My colleagues and I have seen time and time again how the wrong drug for the wrong patient can lead to loss of life or irreversible injury. Every member of a family–and society in general–depends on skilled, competent nursing care, and it is inexcusable when a facility fails to monitor a nurse and ensure that each nurse is competent, much less showing warning signs of personal prescription drug abuse.