I-Team: Doctors, Nurses Not Required To Test For Drugs

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) — When hit with a serious illness or injury, few patients feel more vulnerable then when they are being wheeled into an operating room.  The last thing most of those people would ever consider is the possibility their doctor or nurse could be high on drugs. But it happens, sometimes with devastating consequences.
“I could barely get out of bed,” explained Lauren Lollini, a young woman who was infected with hepatitis C after surgery. 

She got it from a drug-addicted surgical technician who shot herself up with a powerful drug meant for use during Lollini’s surgery. 

She then filled the syringe with saline and slipped it back into place.  That dirty needle carried the virus that causes hepatitis.

That technician, Kristen Parker, went on to infect three dozen other people with hepatitis before she was caught.

“I never thought in a million years this would happen,” she tearfully said in a jailhouse confession.

If Parker was a driver for the MBTA or an airline pilot, she would have had a much tougher time keeping her addiction a secret.  She would have been randomly tested for drugs. 

Doctors and nurses face no such requirement, unless they work in the anesthesiology department at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“We have the exact same incidence of substance abuse as the general population,” explained Dr. Michael Fitzsimons, who started Mass General’s drug testing program. 

Anesthesiology is also a high risk specialty because the most potent drugs are readily available to doctors and nurses. 

Dr. Fitzsimons told the I-Team that he has had to remove doctors who tested positive, but he would not get into numbers.


Most patients would not have that protection.  The I-Team found state records that show many doctors have been disciplined or suspended for drug abuse.  

Many took Fentanyl, the same drug Kristen Parker stole from her patients.  Some admitted being addicted for years, while they were seeing patients.


Diane Pinakiewicz is the president of the National Patient Safety Foundation, an organization formed to make sure the rights of patients come first.  She believes the stakes are too high to let drug addicted doctors slip through the cracks.

“You certainly wouldn’t want a patient exposed to someone who could potentially do them harm,” she said.


Random drug testing is not a popular idea within the medical community.  The American Medical Association has gone on record as being opposed to it. 

Dr. Fitzsimons says there are a lot of legitimate reasons for that, not the least of which is the cost.  Mass General spends thousands of dollars a year and some hospitals simply don’t have that kind of extra cash laying around.

There are also privacy concerns. 

“I understand the concerns about rights,” Pinakiewicz explained, “but again, it’s the patients’ rights that have to take first precedence.”

Patient safety is an argument Dr. Fitzsimons says is hard to argue with.  The 36 people who now live a chronic and potentially fatal disease agree. 

“You’ve got those concerns always in the back of your head. What else is going to happen?” said Lauren Lollini.


Medical professionals can be tested if a colleague suspects they are impaired.  But because they know how these drugs work, many become skilled at hiding their addictions.
Right now there are no proposals to make widespread drug testing mandatory.

  • Snowflake

    Doctors and nurses are probably among the largest group of users. My guess is they’re not tested because there would then be a shortage of medical staff all over the country. I would feel better going under the knife knowing the surgeon is goint to take out something he shouldn’t, and that the nurse isn’t going to be shooting up while I’m sleeping. I think the war on drugs in this country is going just about as well as the war on terrorism.

  • Jeff Boston, MA

    Any group that has the access these people do, and the position of responsibility that they are in, should be tested at least every 4 months, randomly, with no warning, with immediate suspension of licence and permanent loss if found guilty legally.! They steal our money, and they shouldn’t be allowed to steal our lives as well.

  • Cynic

    I assume that there were at least 36 successful malpractice suits. If not;why not?

  • Discouraged

    It is tragic that the individuals who are responsible to ensure our health are stealing drugs intended for the patients. A hospital in Worcester suspended one of their nurses caught stealing drugs, had her on video, she re-signed before she was fired that was months ago… she is still out there working as an RN. The hospital was suppose to report her activity to the Board of Registration 7 months later no action by the Nursing Board of Registration against her. In addition she is the custodial parent for 4 young children. Her ex-husband tried to obtain custody full custody, the courts of MA gave the children back to her with a promise that her mother would be in the house when the children were present to ensure their safe being. That didn’t happen. The courts required drug testing….that didn’t happen….when the probation department was questioned about her testing it was oops never done we will start today…7months after the fact…in this day and age knowing what is happening in our hospitals, clinic’s testing should be mandated.

  • Rocco Talluto

    I think the bigger problem is when these DR.’s are prescribing pills to pay their own bills. One Dr. Brian Awbrey was accused in a complaint of overprescribing pills for a man who overdosed and died because Dr. was Givining him prescriptions for doing work at his house and office. The Board of Registration in Medicine told Dr. Awbreyto rethink his practices. HELLO a man died. Their is also a rumor that two Board members were present when someone was threatened by Dr. Awbrey’s associates in a murder for hire plot and nothing has happened.

  • interested in the facts

    The person who wrote the last post said he was Rocco Talluto. I think not. Talluto is involved with Awbrey – and there are many allegations going around about both of them and their involvement with the things listed above and other crimes. Talluto was allegedly involved in the murder-for-hire plot against the lead plaintiff’s attorney in the Encompass Insurance (federal )case against the Giampas, the chiropractic clinics they owned, and others involved in the businesses. Get your facts straight before you post inaccuracies using a false name.

  • more info

    but theres more – awbrey was doing business with the giampas and hangs around with talluto. have herd that talluto now threatens people on behaf of awbrey. what kind of doctor would be friends with people like hal mayo, a drug dealer, and talluto – an alleged ring leader in murder contracts? pretty scary stuff.

  • intersting read

    Read the latest posting on http://www.topix.com/forum/Boston
    titled Mass Board of Review in Medicine (BORIM).

    It would be great if the I-Team investigated why it takes BORIM so long to act against malpractitioners and physicians who are involved in other illegal activities.

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