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They're often the kind faces and compassionate people you meet in times of desperate need.

Over 25 years ago, a man we'll call "George" says he realized his calling -- to be a nurse.

"I love taking care of people and helping others,” said George.

Many nurses do wonderful work on the front lines of the medical field -- a taxing profession.

"Overworked and underappreciated,” said George.

A small few though -- are working under the influence.

"My problem was mainly alcohol, but I certainly took drugs,” George said.

His satisfaction with the job comes from helping others triumph over illnesses or traumatic experiences.

"And being able to bring a smile to somebody's face possibly,” he said.

But when it came to even acknowledging his own illness, George was in denial.

"I would never think it was an addiction then. It wasn't until my 30s that I used that word alcoholic. But I drank from about 12,” he said. "You take daddy's beer and you go out in the garage and drink it and it's that rite of growing up."

A rite of passage that became much more. During a few years of his nursing career, he says he drank early in the day and many times, all day long.

"I didn't drink at work certainly. On occasion, depending upon what shift I was working, I could have a beer with dinner and go to work at 11,” George said. “Maybe I still had alcohol in my system and I wasn't fully cognitive.”

But at the time he says he only thought of himself, not his patients. And he began to justify his addiction.

"I'm overworked. I'm stressed. I need relief,” said George.

And soon, he says his alcohol addiction was a gateway for a drug addiction. He found himself charging out meds for patients - giving them what they needed and taking the leftover.

"You put people in harm’s way and you don't think about that at that moment because the addiction has you,” George said.

However, this isn't a problem specific to George.

In Kentucky, there are 72,622 licensed, active nurses.

The Kentucky Board of Nurses says last fiscal year they only received 382 drug and alcohol related complaints. But the Board estimates 1 in 10 nurses are struggling with addiction.

"We're talking about over 7,000 nurses who are potentially abusing or in full blown addiction,” said Paula Schenk, manager of the Kentucky Board of Nurses “KARE” Program.

KARE stands for Kentucky Alternative Recovery Effort - a five year monitoring program for nurses who are overcoming addiction.

"There have been nurses who've bought copious amounts of controlled substances off the internet,” Schenk said. "They literally are stealing medications from hospitals or long-term care facilities. They can also engage in other illegal activity such as writing fraudulent prescriptions or buying drugs off the street."

She says nurses in the KARE program consistently talk about the high stress and anxiety from the job.

"The complexities of the patient's condition and trying to juggle and prioritize the care for so many patients in a short span of time,” Schenk said.

Schenk says the stress of the job, coupled with the easy access to medications only facilitates an addict’s problem. And because nurses are educated about medications, Schenk says, there's a certain attitude that some addicts have.

"My knowledge protects me. I know how to use these medications. I know what they will do,” Schenk said.

But like anyone else, nurses aren't immune to the side effects of addiction. When under the influence, memory, judgment, reasoning and the ability to process information have all been affected.

"Clearly, those critical functions have been affected such that it places the patient in harm’s way,” added Schenk.

The KARE program has admitted 600 nurses over the past nine years. Over half graduate from the program, others don't comply with the strict guidelines and have their licenses suspended. The relapse rate is about 25%. Charlotte Beason, the Executive Director of the Board of Nursing, says it's important to remember, that if 1 in 10 nurses are possibly impaired.

"Nine, at least, out of 10 and probably more are functioning at the highest standards and giving quality care,” Beason says.

And she says the Board of Nursing immediately investigates any complaint -- probating, suspending or revoking licenses when necessary.

"I think that individuals can be very comfortable going into a hospital, clinic, doctors’ office," Beason added.

George participated in the KARE program after years of denial and being clean and dry, but not sober. It wasn't until his boss smelled alcohol on his breath during a work function and gave George the option to resign - that George admitted he had a problem.

"Just being able to stop is a wonderful thing... and staying stopped,” said George. "I have a joy in my heart that I had never had before. I have a realization that I am worthwhile."

For more information about the KARE program: or call 1-800-305-2042.