When helping a co-worker can have serious repercussions

By | 2015-11-03T21:24:13-05:00 October 28th, 2015|6 Comments

Suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, a seasoned nurse participated in a pain-management program under the supervision of her PCP. She works full-time in a case management-type position.

A co-worker on the same pain-management regimen asked the nurse several times for some of her pain medications because he had either run out of his own or had to wait to get his prescription filled. The nurse complied with his requests.

The experienced nurse decided to retire, and when she gave her two weeks notice, her co-worker’s behavior became erratic and he constantly begged her for more pills. Troubled about this development, the nurse shared her concerns about this behavior with her supervisor and said she had supplied him with some of her medications.

The co-worker was terminated immediately and the supervisor informed the nurse she was considering reporting her to the state board of nursing. The nurse, thinking that she was just helping a friend, is now anxious, worried and afraid she may be disciplined by the state board.

The nurse’s apprehensiveness is well-founded. It is not acceptable to share any medication with another co-worker, whether it is from one’s own prescription or from another source. This prohibition includes any medications, including over-the-counter ones.

Was the co-worker truly on the same regimen or did he simply say this so a compassionate fellow nurse would believe him? Whether the co-worker was on the same regimen or not, her conduct enabled what appears to be this co-worker’s addiction/abuse to this medication or several medications.

Another concern that arises from this nurse’s experience is the potential impact it might have on other nurses in the facility who are on a legitimate pain-management regimen and continue to work with the facility’s knowledge and approval. If administration raises concerns that such an incident could happen again, or fears it is happening without its knowledge, its policy and procedures governing employees on a pain-management regimen while at work may be altered drastically.

In addition, this nurse administered the medication to her co-worker without an order from an APN, physician or other licensed healthcare provider with the authority to prescribe medications. The nurse, who is administering a medication to the co-worker without a legally authorized order, has placed herself in the position of practicing outside the scope of practice.

The nurse also knows very little, if anything, about the co-worker’s state of health and other medications he is or might be taking. If the co-worker is addicted to or abuses this or another medication, he might be ingesting other medications that are clearly incompatible with each other and/or with the rheumatoid pain medication. His very well-being may be at stake.

It is unfortunate that this nurse, whose actions were well-meaning, has placed herself in this position. She is to be commended for reporting her concerns to the supervisor and this may help her if she faces disciplinary proceedings before the state board of nursing.

Your turn

What would you do if confronted with helping a co-worker with this request?

Note: Nancy Brent’s posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice.


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About the Author:

Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN
Our legal information columnist Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN, received her Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and concentrates her solo law practice in health law and legal representation, consultation and education for healthcare professionals, school of nursing faculty and healthcare delivery facilities. Brent has conducted many seminars on legal issues in nursing and healthcare delivery across the country and has published extensively in the area of law and nursing practice. She brings more than 30 years of experience to her role of legal information columnist. Her posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.


  1. Avatar
    Karen Fuley October 29, 2015 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    I have been in this position & I told the other person she would have to see a doctor herself. Not only was I leary of “sharing” my medication but, if I had, I would have come up short before a refill was due & that would have caused my use to be scrutinized.

  2. Avatar
    Wendy November 2, 2015 at 5:25 am - Reply

    Its an interesting article….and i must say i am surprised that sharing even OTC meds ( such as aspirin or tylenol) is prohibited. How many times has a coworker asked you….do you gave an advil, or a tylenol? Good to know!

  3. Avatar
    Patricia Henschel November 2, 2015 at 11:13 am - Reply

    I am also a RN who has RA, I completely agree with the above poster. No way Jose would I give my meds to anyone else. I am accountable for all my meds this was made very clear to me. Compassion is one thing, complying with the law is another. Sorry fellow nurse I don’t share my drugs!

  4. Avatar
    Nancy Green November 2, 2015 at 11:59 am - Reply

    I also work in case management and can see red flags in the behavior of the nurse who was soliciting pain meds from his co-worker. He should have been making this request to his doctor, not her. But do I really have to refuse a request for OTC Ibuprofen from a co-worker? We get a lot of headaches some days, and the person asking for an OTC is not my patient, and I would think it’s their responsibility to know if it’s safe for them. If they go to the corner store they can buy it no questions asked.

  5. Avatar
    Brad November 2, 2015 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    I would not have shared my prescription medication. I did not know that over the counter medication was included in medication you were not allowed to share with a co-worker. This actually brings up the question whether you can share over the counter medication off clinical premises? If a family member or friend is visiting you and asks for over the counter medication, can you legally let them have it or must you tell them they have to go to the store to get their own ibuprofen (example)? What if the person visiting is a co-worker. Does this restrict you from “sharing” over the counter medication?

  6. Avatar
    Sharon Itzkowitz June 6, 2017 at 1:46 am - Reply

    I got a written warning for not being compassionate and contributing to disruptive behavior when I got yelled at. Then I saw coworkers give a fellow coworker an iIV when sick and off- duty in our recovery room. I didn’t know who to go to and went to Infectious disease nurse.to report it. When boss away.
    I think they are going to blame me for reporting it to wrong person. Boss back, what do I do- fear I’m going to get fired for disrupting office where infectious disease RN was. I believe coworkers negligent.

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