Drug abuse among health care professionals is a serious issue. With their authority and access to a myriad of chemical substances the temptation is often too much to overcome. Recently, residents of Palm Garden of Pinellas in Largo and Clearwater Central nursing homes said registered nurse Brett Edwards didn’t give them their pain medication. Coworkers there and at a Largo nursing home said Edwards appeared “impaired” during shifts. Edwards was a nurse at Seneca Health and Rehabilitation owned and operated by SavaSeniorCare, the infamous for-profit chain. His South Carolina license to practice registered nursing was revoked in June 2019.
According to the emergency restriction order (ERO) that the Florida Department of Health placed on Edwards’ license on Feb. 7, Edwards can’t practice nursing until he’s cleared by the Intervention Project for Nurses (IPN), which monitors nurses with substance abuse problems. The problems began revealing themselves, the ERO says, in 2019 at Palm Garden of Pinellas in Largo and Clearwater Central nursing homes. He resigned from each facility rather than take a drug test for reasonable cause.
Another coworker counted medication with Edwards at the end of the shift and found the count two Percocet tablets short. Edwards dodged a supervisor’s questions about the missing pain medication, then left Palm Garden without answering the questions. The supervisor told Edwards to come back to work to talk about the Percocet.
Edwards returned to a request for a reasonable cause drug screen. Edwards resigned instead.
Palm Garden wasn’t dropping things that easily. The hospital called Largo police, who got Edwards on the phone.
“Mr Edwards told the officer he did not submit a sample because he was taking performance drugs and did not want those to show up on the drug screen,” the ERO said. “Mr. Edwards denied diverting Percocet.”
Eight days into his employment, the ERO says, Edwards’ peers at Clearwater Center began seeing similar behavior that preceded his departure from Palm Garden.
He had been “acting oddly and having difficulty logging into the narcotic box,” repeating the troubles he had 15 days earlier at Palm Garden.
Another coworker “observed Mr. Edwards working very slowly and not treating his patients.” When the coworker asked Edwards if he was all right, Edwards said, “I am a big boy.”
“When a patient complained that he needed his medication, Mr. Edwards said that he ‘can wait,’ ” the ERO said.
“This colleague found Mr. Edwards asleep on the medication cart. She woke him up and he responded, ‘I am so tired.’ ”
Also, “multiple patients at CWC reported that Mr. Edwards did not give them their narcotic medications when they asked for them.”
Edwards told still another colleague, as she took over the narcotic box, that he lost some medication administration sheets.
Just as Palm Garden had, CWC administration asked for a reasonable cause drug screen. For the second time in just over two weeks, Edwards resigned.
When the Florida Department of Health ordered Edwards to see Dr. Lawrence Wilson, an addiction medicine specialist, in December, Edwards began admitting the depth of his problem. He told Wilson he bought pills on the street twice a year, most recently pain medication oxycodone two days before seeing Wilson. His last drink? One beer, six days earlier.
Blood, urine and hair samples came back positive for alcohol, methamphetamine, amphetamine, pain medications Ultram, morphine, oxycodone, noroxycodone, oxymorphone and hydrocodone in amounts that Wilson thought indicated “repetitive and frequent use of opiates, opioids, stimulants and alcohol.”
Wilson recommended an inpatient hospitalization program and a monitoring contract with IPN.
Edwards hasn’t done that yet. I doubt he ever will.