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Letter to dvm360: When the practice owner is the dark shadow


If we're all watching for drug abuse and drug diversion in the veterinary practice, what happens to the associate or team member whose boss is the offender?

The veterinary literature is replete with information and tips on “better drug inventory to prevent theft and abuse” as well as pre-employment and employee drug testing, establishing controls, locked and limited storage and access to drugs, reconciling daily counts, and employee guidelines and policies. The gist of these articles can be summed in this quote from Jon Geller in the dvm360 article "Dark Shadows: Drug abuse and addiction in the veterinary workplace": “Don't believe you could ever have a problem with drug addicts in your hospital? Are you so certain you're so skilled an employer that you would never hire a drug user?”

How do you vet a boss before agreeing to be hired? Do both of you get a pre-employment drug test at the same time?

Drug abuse and addiction by employees is a bona fide issue and a topic affecting this profession, but the other side of the coin is this: What if the diverter of prescription and controlled drugs or the abuser of the drugs or alcohol is your boss ... the practice owner ... the person who hired you? This can be a terrible dilemma for the unsuspecting new graduate and job seeker who moves 1,000 miles and finds out about the boss's problem after a few months on the job. How do you vet a boss before agreeing to be hired? Do both of you get a pre-employment drug test at the same time?

A distinguished colleague informed me that treatment programs for substance-dependent practitioners are available in most states, with rehabilitation and return to productive life as the goal. But a new grad may not be capable of stepping up adequately to keep the practice from closing while the boss is in rehab. Mentoring is often crucial at that stage.

There are other problems as well. Could an associate be out of a job after reporting the boss, presumably anonymously? If an associate doesn't report, will he or she be out of a job when the boss disappears, perhaps in deep trouble with the DEA and who knows who else?

An associate could wind up with a career black mark as a squealer.

I'd worry about my personal and professional liability and being associated with my employer's unprofessional, possibly malpractice-worthy actions and behaviors. An associate could wind up with a career black mark as a squealer. Retaliation, actual and legal, is a distinct possibility, as are repurcussions if you “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" and get caught. It's never easy to be a whistleblower.

Perhaps if this profession begins to remove this issue from the shadows and abolishes the stigma, we can begin to discuss and find answers and stem the brain and skill drain on our wonderful profession.

Name withheld upon request

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