Last month I heard about a young nurse, age 23, who died of a heroin overdose. Jessica Ludwiczak was dropped off at an ER in a comatose state by an unknown man. There were track marks on her body. Her family was stunned, they had no idea she used drugs. She was a nurse at a local hospital, she was studying at Alverno College to become a registered nurse. Her family said there were no signs that indicated Ms. Ludwiczak had a drug problem…no signs. That is the key point in this story to me. Nobody knew I was using either. We, addicts, can be so good at hiding our drug use. This is why we need to be randomly drug tested. Maybe if they had this requirement at the hospital where Ms. Ludwiczak worked they would have caught her. Sure, it would have been devastating to this young nurse. Her career dreams would have been seriously altered. But she would have been alive. She would have had the opportunity to start her life, her career over again. She may have been successful at fighting her addiction, she may not have been, but she would have had a chance. She has no chance now. It is such a waste of a life, what could have been a beautiful life.
I used drugs for years and nobody knew…NOBODY. I was smart, or so I thought. I knew how much I could take while working so that nobody would suspect. Please note that I write ‘while working’. I did not just do this in the privacy of my home while my children were safely tucked in bed. No, I did it whenever I could. While working, while driving, while taking care of my kids, while visiting friends and family, anytime I had drugs to take. As my addiction progressed I became less able to control when and where I used them.
Yet, I was one of the lucky ones, although it didn’t feel that way at the time. I got caught before having to suffer Ms. Ludwiczak’s fate. Nobody suspected I was using until the stock supply started disappearing. You see, after a time I could no longer wait for the ‘waste’ drugs, I craved them so badly. Once I started taking the stock supply it didn’t take them long to figure out it was me. I was arrested and charged with 26 felonies. I was absolutely devastated. I had no idea what I was going to do. But again I say, I was one of the lucky ones, I ended up getting clean (after a few more stumbles) and have stayed that way for 11 years (and counting). I am a nurse in good standing again.
I think the most important thing to take away from this blog is that you can’t always tell if someone is using drugs or not using drugs. If you depend on being able to identify those with a substance abuse problem by sight you will be missing many of them. Sure there are some that reek of alcohol, pass out in bathrooms or get arrested, those are the obvious cases, but there are just as many that are hiding an addiction that nobody can see. They are the ones that we need to focus our attention on. They are the ones that may be helped if random urine drug screens would be required of all healthcare workers with access to controlled substances. Detecting their problem could prevent a death. The death of the addict or their patient’s death. They are dangerous, I was dangerous. I didn’t think so at the time, I thought I had it all figured out. But I was fooling myself. Anyone who is high at work is risking their patient’s safety. Their decisions and reactions are flawed.
Please join me in my quest to get people to listen. The public needs to understand the scope of the problem. The Licensing Boards need to advocate for random drug testing. The government needs to require it. I am one voice and few are listening to me. I need more voices.