A Trenton husband and wife who are both nurses and were arrested last month on felony drug charges are not unique, with both medical association and law enforcement acknowledging addiction among professionals is a problemWhitney Johnson, 26, and Stephen Johnson, 28, of 205 N. First St. in Trenton, were arrested by Butler County drug unit agents in late November following an undercover investigation. They are accused of stealing drugs from patients, nursing homes and hospitals throughout the region to support their heroin addictions, according to the sheriff’s office.
While the Johnstons’ alleged crimes may be especially egregious to some because they are accused of stealing from ill people who entrusted them, investigators said such crimes by professionals are not surprising.
“It is not highly shocking to us,” said Butler County Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Craft. “We have seen more professionals, not just nurses, who are abusing drugs or going down these avenues to support their addiction to prescription drugs.”
The American Nurses Association estimates approximately 10 percent of nurses are dependent on drugs, according to a 2009 article on ModernMedicine.com. Long hours, easy access to drugs, shift rotation and physically taxing elements of the job were also cited in the article as reasons drug abuse is triggered in nurses.
“Access and stress are two of the main components,” said Art Zwerling of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Peer Assistance program, noting abuse of prescription drugs which can lead to opioid addiction is a large problem among the general population. He estimates 14 percent of nurses have a substance abuse problem, which includes alcohol.
Zwerling pointed out other factors such as personality and family history also play a part in addiction in nurses. Anesthetists have the highest risk of abuse because of the potency of the drugs they handle, followed by ICU then emergency room nurses.
Nursing associations like the AANC are very proactive in providing recovery services to nurses, realizing hit is very important because the deal with “the very sickest of people in their most vulnerable moments.”
The American Nurses Association website lists contacts and organizations for getting peer assistance for substance abuse and knowing the signs and behaviors of an impaired colleague.
Whitney Johnston is a registered nurse who was first licensed in 2007, and Stephen Johnston is a practical nurse who was first licensed in 2009, according to the Ohio Board of Nursing.
Stephen Johnston is employed by a Heartland nursing home in Kettering and Whitney by Maxim Health Care Services, which is a staffing agency for nurses primarily in Montgomery County, according to the sheriff’s office.Whitney Johnston has been suspended pending an investigation, according to a Maxim official.
Stephen Johnston has also been suspended from his job until the outcome of the police investigation.
“As part of our protocol in a situation such as this, we conducted our own investigation and worked with the proper authorities,” said Julie Beckert, spokeswoman for HCR Manor Care, the parent company of Heartland. “As part of our normal hiring procedure, we perform background checks, licensure verification and pre-hire drug screenings on employees which was completed and cleared for this employee. After further investigation, we do not believe that this situation is related to our facility.”
A search warrant was served at the Johnston’s home and police found large amounts of syringes, drug paraphernalia and medications, including Oxycontin and other pain killers, stolen from area hospitals.
Undercover officers made buys from the couple at their home, according to Sgt. Mike Hackney of the Butler County Sheriff’s Office. The couple was selling and trading stolen drugs to support a heroin addiction, he said.
The Johnstons were booked into the Middletown Jail and released on bond. A warrant for Stephen Johnson’s arrest was issued when he did not show up for a court date Friday in Middletown Municipal Court. Whitney Johnson is scheduled to appear in court Monday for a preliminary hearing.
Police have received information that the couple may have entered a drug rehabilitation center, according to Hackney.
Posted: 5:00 a.m. Monday, Dec. 17, 2012
By Lauren Pack
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Medical professionals who abuse drugs not rare