- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A West Virginia board let four nurses in substance abuse programs return to work despite failing or not taking drug tests, according to a state audit released Tuesday.

The state Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses let nurses practice while recovering from abusing drugs like ephedrine, hydrocodone, opiates and cocaine, legislative auditor Aaron Allred wrote.

One nurse’s drug citations date back to 2008. The audit said it took 15 months for the nurse to sign a consent order and stop practicing after she admitted drug use.

Other recovering nurses didn’t schedule drug tests, paid $250 fines and kept working.

One nurse was allowed to practice with restrictions after testing positive for drugs she stole from a hospital.

The report questioned whether auditing a larger sample would have found more similar instances. From the 2011 to 2013 budget year, the board suspended 87 licenses to let nurses get substance abuse treatment.

The audit recommended steeper fines for repeat violators, better monitoring and more timeliness in responding to complaints.

“The findings of this issue give the impression that the board leans more towards protecting the professionals at the expense of protecting the public,” the audit said.

According to the audit, board staff said nurses deserve multiple chances to regain licenses. The board responded that it follows national standards relating to its nurse recovery and monitoring program.

The board also said it’s possible that some nurses don’t call the drug test hotline because they know they’re impaired.

An employer can also remove an impaired nurse, the board said.

“We do stand behind our disciplinary process, which we believe is very strong,” Board Executive Director Laura Skidmore Rhodes told The Associated Press.

The audit also says the board did not fully investigate a Board of Medicine complaint that implicated three nurses in falsifying medical records and Medicare fraud.

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