Are You at Risk?

“…Resident found dead of an overdose of Sufenta in the call room...”
“I don’t think it ever occurred to him that he could lose his life.”

Those sentences come from the film “Wearing Masks,” (www.aana.com/WearingMasks) which details the addiction and overdose death of Dr. Richard Sims, a medical resident at the University of Colorado Medical Center. The film, produced in 1993 may seem dated, yet the message is still timely today. It addresses the denial and control issues that play such an important part in masking a substance use disorder (SUD), and the impact an overdose death has on the family, co-workers and friends left behind.

Healthcare professionals work long hours in stressful environments, caring for others and often neglecting themselves. When it comes time to cut loose and party or join a celebration, society does not always look askance at someone overdoing their celebration. “She’s the life of the party!” “Dude, you sure got wasted last night!” These are not uncommon “accolades.”


Self-medication is usually not a group activity, nor is it ordinarily a goal to become an addict in most people’s minds when SUD begins. In Dr. Sims’ case, it began with a curiosity born of the peaceful look on his patients’ faces when he administered their anesthesia. People looking for a quick “pick me up” or “one time can’t hurt” or “I can stop any time I want” adventure is often how it can begin. CRNAs and SRNAs are no different in this respect.

The problem is getting it to stop before it stops you. Misuse of drugs takes away health, well-being, family and friends, jobs, licenses, life savings, and most tragically, life itself. It’s imperative that each of you knows the risks and also the signs and behavior of an impaired colleague. The denial associated with addiction often prohibits seeking self-help, therefore co-workers who suspect are often the only way to stop what can result in a death by intended or unintended overdose.  For more education on this topic, an interactive session “How to Save a Life: Substance Use Disorder (SUD) in the Workplace” was offered Monday, August 31, 2015 from 2-4 p.m. room 355.

AANA Peer Assistance

The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists was the first professional organization in the healthcare arena to develop a peer assistance program of CRNAs helping CRNAs and SRNAs. Maggie Olsen, CRNA, became the first peer assistance advisor (PAA), supporting those who needed help or who knew someone who needed help.

Diana Quinlan, CRNA, became the second PAA, and she and Olsen offered helpful resources and education at CRNA gatherings. Quinlan has become one of the most respected and wide-reaching leaders and experts of peer assistance. She has written extensively on the evolution of chemical dependence and misuse, and Diana Quinlan, CRNA, became the second PAA, and she and Olsen offered helpful resources and education at CRNA gatherings. Quinlan has become one of the most respected and wide-reaching leaders and experts of peer assistance. She has written extensively on the evolution of chemical dependence and misuse, and spoke on “The Evolution of Peer Assistance: From the Civil War to the Present” at the AANA Pioneers Meeting (August 29, 2015 from 3-4 p.m. MT in Room 254 AB, Salt Palace Convention Center) in Salt Lake City. on “The Evolution of Peer Assistance: From the Civil War to the Present” at the AANA Pioneers Meeting (August 29, 2015 from 3-4 p.m. MT in Room 254 AB, Salt Palace Convention Center) in Salt Lake City. 

Anesthetists in Recovery (AIR)

The national support group Anesthetists in Recovery (AIR) was founded in 1984 by Beth Visintine, CRNA, and Carlos “Rusty” Ratliff, CRNA, and continues to this day. Ratliff credited the group with helping him to maintain his sobriety. AIR reached more people when it went online in a confidential Yahoo group in 2002 at the suggestion of the late Art Zwerling, CRNA, MSN, MS, DNP, DAAPM, one of the Peer Assistance Advisors’ most impassioned advocates.

Empowering Calm through Resilience

This year at the AANA Nurse Anesthesia Annual Congress, the Jan Stewart Memorial Wellness Lecture speaker was William B. Baun, EPD, CWP, FAWHP, and his topic waa "Empowering Calm Through Engaged Resilience."  (Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, 7-8 a.m., Room 355 Salt Palace Convention Center) Baun, a wellness and health leader with over 35 years of experience, is the Wellness Officer at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Baun was selected as the 30, 2015, 7-8 a.m., Room 355 Salt Palace Convention Center) Baun, a wellness and health leader with over 35 years of experience, is the Wellness Officer at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Baun was selected as the 12th speaker in the Jan Stewart series for his experience lecturing and teaching clinical staff at MD Anderson on the importance of stress reduction with a focus on the positive practice resilience as unmitigated stress can lead to SUD.

Resources