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‘Work is your drug dealer:’ Nurses addicted to drugs

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – For Lori Rhinebarger, you could say nursing is in her blood. She started out on the switchboard at a hospital when she was just a teenager.

The caring, compassionate mission to save lives was embedded in her genes.

“My heart is in it. I love the patients and I love my co-workers,” she said.

But there’s also something else in her genes. Lori’s dad became addicted to drugs by age 60. At 63, he was dead. Then, her sister died from an overdose in 2014.

Lori Rhinebarger

Lori almost died as well.

“My addiction took me places that I never in a million years thought I would go,” she said.

Lori started doing drugs while on the job as a nurse. After her father’s death, she dealt with postpartum depression after her son was born. She says that’s what started a downward spiral that would later put a huge dent in her promising career.

She tells the story of the first time she took a few pills to help her get through the day.

“My son was 4 months old and I still had pain medication in my medicine cabinet from when he was born, but I remembered thinking, those gave me a little bit of energy. This will help get me through the morning. I’ve got to keep going.”

Lori isn’t alone. Studies estimate about 10 percent of nurses nationwide have an addiction. Indiana has seen recent high-profile cases of both nurses and doctors getting caught using and abusing drugs at work.

“You have to show up to work. Work is your drug dealer,” Lori said.

She said she hid her addiction from everyone. Even her bosses didn’t know she was high at work.

“I didn’t miss a ballgame. I was that mom that was at every ball game. High… had to be,” she said.

After getting caught stealing drugs, going through dozens of jobs, going to jail, and even an overdose, Lori took the steps to change her life in January 2015.

“I remember that feeling, but I knew if I didn’t take that step, I was going to be dead.”

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