Purpose: To investigate the effects of two state regulatory policies on nurses with substance use disorders (SUD) on relapse rates and retention in the nursing workforce.
Design & Methods: This longitudinal comparative study consisted of six data-collection points in 6 months. One sample of 100 registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses or vocational nurses (LPN/VNs) had disciplinary actions taken against their licenses by four U.S. state regulatory boards using a traditional, disciplinary approach. The alternative sample consisted of 119 RNs and LPN/VNs from three U.S. states where the regulatory board diverted nurses to programs for treatment and for determining suitability to return to practice. Data were collected via mailed surveys.
Findings: When compared to the sample, the alternative sample had more nurses with active licenses, fewer with criminal convictions, and more nurses employed in nursing. No difference in relapse rate was found. Fewer than 15% of nurses in either sample experienced one or more episodes of relapse during the 6-month study. Of those who did relapse, the majority used alcohol or street drugs.
Conclusions: Alternative policies worked as well as disciplinary policies and were a more humane and rehabilitative approach. Alternative policy is consistent with the recommendation in Healthy People 2010 to eliminate financial barriers limiting access to treatment. Further investigation is needed to identify situations that trigger relapse.