If You Are a Licensed Nurse in Mississippi and are Struggling with Substance Abuse, The Lento Law Firm Can Help

If you hold a valid Mississippi nursing license, you should be proud of this accomplishment. Not everyone can earn this prestigious credential. It takes years of perseverance, study, and hard work, and the state's licensing process is strict. Regardless of your nursing specialty, you have serious — and rewarding — responsibilities as you help your patients. Nurses are strong, caring people, and others depend on them every day. But sometimes, it is the nurse who needs help, especially when struggling with drugs or alcohol. It's no secret that alcohol and drugs, whether prescription or illegal, can overwhelm people. These substances can lead to dependency, impaired thinking, and mental and physical harm. They can also cause someone to harm another person. Mississippi takes its nursing license process seriously, and when a nurse has a substance abuse problem, the state will not hesitate to act through its disciplinary channels. Mississippi can suspend or revoke a license when a nurse has an issue with drugs or alcohol, and it can also deny a license to an applicant who is wrestling with these substances. However, the state also has a way to help nurses overcome problems with drugs or alcohol and remain in the profession they love.

If you are a nurse in Mississippi and are facing, or think you might be subject to, disciplinary action due to drugs or alcohol, you must be proactive and fight to keep your license. The best way to do that is by having an experienced law firm at your side. The Lento Law Firm and its Professional License Defense Team are ready to help you navigate Mississippi's complicated and confusing disciplinary process, as well as the state's program for nurses who have substance abuse issues. The team has nationwide experience defending nurses, physicians, surgeons, and other licensed medical professionals who face loss of licensure An attorney with the Professional License Defense Team will review your situation, answer your questions, explain what can happen, discuss your options, and work with you to pursue the best resolution of the case. Experience matters and the Lento Law Firm is ready to go to bat for you, regardless of where you are in Mississippi. From Biloxi to Jackson to Natchez and anywhere in between, the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team can help. Reach out to us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.

The Nurse Licensing Process in Mississippi

The Mississippi Board of Nursing handles the licensing process for nurses within the state. Mississippi also participates in the Nurse Licensure Compact and, as a member, allows nurses who hold a license from another state to practice within the state.

Anyone who desires to obtain a nursing license from Mississippi must send their school transcript to the board and pass the National Council Licensing Examination, commonly called the NCLEX. After passing the test, an individual must file a license application with the board and undergo a background check, which involves the submission of fingerprints. The board sends the fingerprints to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and the FBI for a criminal history records check. Note that if the board learns of any criminal history that is not already in the public record, it will generally keep the information confidential.

The board conducts a background check to ensure that a nursing license applicant is of good moral character. When registering for the check, a license applicant must answer questions relating to their moral character. The questions concern criminal history, substance use, physical and mental health, disciplinary matters and investigations concerning other licenses, and military discharge classification. If an applicant has a history in one of these areas, they must submit a detailed written explanation of the circumstances along with supporting documents. For example, an applicant can submit court documents regarding criminal activity, admission and discharge papers for substance use or mental health treatment, and military discharge records. Admission of a history in one of these areas does not automatically disqualify a license applicant from a nursing career.

Reasons for Denial of a Nursing License Application in Mississippi

The board also performs the background check to make sure an applicant has not engaged in activities that can lead to denial of licensure. For example, Mississippi law allows the board to deny a license to an applicant who has:

  • “Committed fraud or deceit when securing a license;
  • Been convicted of, or pleaded no contest to, a felony or crime of moral turpitude;
  • Acted in a way that is inconsistent with the health or safety of those under their care;
  • Had a nursing license suspended, revoked, or voluntarily surrendered in any jurisdiction, or had been placed under a nursing disciplinary order in any jurisdiction;
  • Practiced nursing in a way that failed to meet generally accepted standards;
  • Violated any board order, rule, or regulation regarding nursing practice or licensure;
  • Falsified or failed to make essential entries on records, or repeatedly made incorrect entries;
  • Become dependent on, or addicted to, alcohol or other habit-forming drugs, or is a habitual user of narcotics, barbiturates, amphetamines, hallucinogens, or other similar drugs, or has misappropriated medication;
  • A physical, mental, or emotional condition that renders them unable to perform nursing services with skill and safety;
  • Engaged in any other conduct that would both constitute a crime under Mississippi law and relate to employment as a nurse;
  • Participated in conduct likely to deceive, defraud, or harm the public; or
  • Engaged in unprofessional conduct as identified by the board under its rules.”

The board can also deny a nursing license to an applicant who is guilty of certain offenses. These offenses include:

  • “Selling, fraudulently obtaining, or furnishing any nursing diploma, license, license renewal, or record;
  • Practicing nursing under any illegally or fraudulently obtained diploma, license, license renewal, or record;
  • Practicing, or offering to practice, nursing without a license;
  • Using any title, designation, or abbreviation that represents to the public that they are a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse, or any other type of nurse, unless the person is duly licensed;
  • Practicing as a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse while under license suspension or revocation;
  • Conducting an unaccredited nursing education program for the preparation of registered nurses or licensed practical nurses; and
  • Willfully employing an unlicensed person to practice as a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse.”

Nursing License Renewal in Mississippi

Once licensed, nurses in Mississippi must renew their licenses periodically. The board will send a renewal notice to an individual approximately 60 days before their license expires. A nurse must complete a renewal application and return it to the board along with a fee. Mississippi does not require nurses to take continuing education classes to retain their licenses. However, the state requires the classes if a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse has been out of practice for more than five years. In addition, the board does not dictate how many hours or days per year a nurse must work to keep an active license. A nurse must be realistic about his or her abilities and determine the number of hours in which care can be provided safely.

Standards of Practice for Nurses in Mississippi

To ensure public health and safety, Mississippi law outlines standards of practice for licensed nurses. According to the law, nurses are responsible for maintaining knowledge of, and compliance with, the laws and regulations covering the practice of nursing in the state. One of the things Mississippi law focuses on is patients' rights. The state says that nurses must:

  • Conduct their practice without discriminating against a patient on the basis of age, race, religion, sex, sexual preference, national origin, disability or disease;
  • Respect a patient's dignity and rights regardless of social or economic status, personal attributes, or the nature of health problems;
  • Respect a patient's privacy by protecting confidential information;
  • Protect a patient from neglect, exploitation, or abuse; and
  • Respect property belonging to patients, family, significant others, and their employer.

Board Actions Against Nursing Licenses in Mississippi

As explained above, Mississippi can deny a nursing license to an applicant for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is unprofessional conduct. The board can revoke, suspend, or refuse to renew a nursing license for this reason as well. The state has a broad definition of unprofessional conduct. In Mississippi, unprofessional conduct in nursing includes, but is not limited to:

  • “Being convicted of a felony within the past five years;
  • Filing false, forged, or altered documents when seeking licensure;
  • Misrepresentation, deception, or the failure to disclose requested information on any licensure or board document when seeking a nursing license;
  • Practicing nursing beyond the scope of the license or directing another to practice beyond their authorized scope;
  • Failing to maintain medical records in a professional manner, changing entries or destroying records, making false entries, making entries before patient care is administered, and failing to make essential entries;
  • Practicing nursing while the ability to practice is impaired by a physical or emotional condition;
  • Practicing nursing while under the influence of alcohol or other mood-altering substances;
  • Passing or attempting to pass a forged prescription;
  • Selling or attempting to sell a controlled substance;
  • Possessing, obtaining, furnishing, or administering drugs to any person, including self, except as legally directed;
  • Willfully altering medications; and
  • Misappropriating drugs, supplies, or equipment.”

Mississippi's definition of unprofessional conduct encompasses a number of activities that concern alcohol and drugs, whether legal or illegal. To explore this point further, the unprofessional conduct of practicing nursing while under the influence of alcohol or other mood-altering substances can be evidenced by any of the following:

  • A positive screen for alcohol, an illegal substance, or an unauthorized medication;
  • A pattern of abuse or habitual abuse of authorized or unauthorized medications;
  • Impairment while on duty while using authorized or unauthorized medications;
  • A refusal to submit to a drug screen;
  • The submission of a diluted, adulterated, or substituted specimen for testing; and
  • Noncompliance with a treatment plan for a substance abuse disorder.

In addition to acting against an applicant or licensee who participates in unprofessional conduct, Mississippi allows the board to act in other circumstances. The board can take actions such as suspending or revoking a nursing license, refusing renewal of a license, placing a licensee on probation, or subjecting a licensee to other disciplinary action. The board can take these steps when a nurse engages in any of the activities that could lead to the initial denial of a license application. As discussed above, these activities include committing fraud or deceit when securing a license, being convicted of, or pleading no contest to, a felony or crime of moral turpitude, acting in a way that is inconsistent with the health or safety of persons under care, and being dependent on, or addicted to, alcohol or other habit-forming drugs.

If the board determines that a nurse participated in any of these activities, it can enter an order imposing one or more penalties. The following penalties are authorized in Mississippi:

  • Reprimand;
  • Suspension or restriction of a license to practice as a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse;
  • Revocation of a license or to practice nursing or practical nursing;
  • Requiring the nurse to submit to care, counseling, or treatment as a condition for initial, continued, or renewed licensure;
  • Requiring the nurse to participate in an education program as a condition for initial, continued, or renewed licensure;
  • Requiring the nurse to practice under the supervision of a registered nurse for a specified time period;
  • A fine of up to $500; and
  • Immediate, emergency suspension of a license to protect the public while a proceeding for revocation or other disciplinary action is pending.

These penalties are serious, of course. However, Mississippi has an “alternative to discipline” program for licensees who have an impairment due to substance abuse.

Mississippi's Program for Nurses Dealing with Substance Abuse

Mississippi has a treatment program for nurses who are struggling with drugs or alcohol. This program, which is called Mississippi's Nurse Voluntary Program, is an alternative to the state's usual disciplinary penalties. The program gives participants the chance to remain licensed while they pursue the goals of abstinence and the ability to practice nursing safely. The program has three stages. The nurse is removed from practice, undergoes rehabilitation, and then returns to nursing. Participation in the program is voluntary. A nurse must enroll before the board holds a disciplinary hearing and must cover the cost of participation, including the cost of any care, counseling, treatment, and education. A nurse can only participate in the program once during any five-year period. The state keeps any records regarding participation confidential.

Eligibility for Mississippi's Nurse Voluntary Program

To be eligible, a nurse must admit to having a substance abuse problem. An individual will usually be eligible for the program if they:

  • Do not currently hold an encumbered license in any jurisdiction;
  • Have not been subject to discipline in any jurisdiction within the past five years;
  • Have not diverted controlled substances for other than their own use;
  • Have not participated in activities that resulted in harm to a patient; and
  • Have not been formally charged or convicted for the sale or distribution of controlled substances or prescription drugs.

Mississippi must deny program participation to anyone who:

  • Has diverted controlled substances for other than their own use;
  • Has caused known, provable patient harm or behaved in a way that had serious potential to cause patient harm;
  • Is not eligible for licensure in the state; or
  • Has been terminated from the program, or any other alternative program, for non-compliance within the past five years.

The state may deny admission to the program if the nurse:

  • Has a history, in any state, of past disciplinary action that is not related to substance abuse and which resulted in probation, revocation, or suspension of licensure;
  • Has any pending criminal action or a prior felony; or
  • Has had incidents that may have caused patient harm, abuse, or neglect.

Requirements of Mississippi's Nurse Voluntary Program

Once Mississippi determines that a nurse is eligible for the program, the individual must undergo a chemical dependency evaluation by a board-approved medical specialist. The nurse must also sign a monitoring agreement, which sets out how long program participation will last, as well as the requirements for drug and alcohol screens, attendance at peer support and therapy meetings, and self and supervisory reporting on sobriety. The agreement also covers oversight when a nurse returns to work and what can happen if an individual relapses or does not comply with the program terms. These consequences include dismissal from the program and referral to the board for disciplinary action for noncompliance.

In addition, the monitoring agreement states that the nurse will not practice nursing but will take steps to maintain their current licensure. The agreement also provides that the nurse will comply with all treatment recommendations and will not use alcohol or drugs, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications and other mood-altering substances unless lawfully prescribed and with program approval. For example, a nurse should avoid OTC cough and cold medications containing antihistamines, ephedrine, alcohol, or Kratom.

Mississippi requires program participants to go to three 12-step or other self-help meetings and one peer support meeting each week. Participants must have a consistent relationship with a sponsor and undergo random drug and alcohol testing. The testing will occur two to three times a month for the first 12 months, and frequency may be gradually reduced. Once a nurse returns to work, the tests will continue. If a nurse misses a drug or alcohol test without permission, it is considered non-compliance. A positive drug screen may be considered noncompliance if program officials have not received explanatory documentation from a prescribing medical practitioner. Noncompliance with the monitoring agreement or termination from the program are incidents of unprofessional conduct and may be used to support disciplinary action.

Lastly, when a nurse enters into the monitoring agreement, they give up their right to appeal, file grievances or complaints, and contest any licensure actions arising out of program participation. They also give up the right to challenge any disciplinary action arising from a breach of the agreement.

Return to Work Under Mississippi's Nurse Voluntary Program

When program officials authorize a return to practice, a nurse must limit their work to Mississippi and must maintain continuous, supervised employment. An individual must inform an employer about their program participation and follow all of their employer's policies. A nurse is usually under supervision for a minimum of 12 months after returning to work and is prohibited from working in a home health or hospice setting, as a travel or agency nurse, or in any other unsupervised position. Further, a nurse generally will not have access to or administer controlled substances or potentially addictive medications for a minimum of six months after returning to nursing.

To graduate from the program, a nurse must comply with all of the program's requirements and submit a written relapse prevention and healthy recovery plan to program officials. The nurse must also ask his or her personal monitors for letters recommending a designation of successful completion. Program officials will review this paperwork along with any pending urine screens and, if approved, provide the nurse with a successful completion document.

As you can see, Mississippi's Nurse Voluntary Program is a beneficial alternative to the traditional disciplinary channels when a nurse is contending with substance abuse. However, anyone who wants to participate in the program should obtain legal advice before signing up. An attorney from the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team can review the program's terms, explain them, and make sure they are right for you. In some situations, the program may not be the right avenue to take, and you should understand all the pros and cons before participating.

You Need a Vigorous Advocate if You Are a Nurse Dealing with Drugs or Alcohol in Mississippi

If you or a loved one holds a Mississippi nursing license and are experiencing drug or alcohol problems that could place that license at risk, you need the right team in your corner. The Lento Law Firm and its Professional License Defense Team will be strong proponents of your rights. We are ready to help, no matter where you are in Mississippi. We can help you in Hattiesburg, Horn Lake, Tupelo, Waveland, or anywhere else in the state. Don't take chances with your career and your future. There is too much at stake, and the Lento Law Firm not only understands but also knows what to do. Get in touch with us by calling 888-535-3686 or contact us using this online form.


Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are committed to answering your questions about Physician License Defense, Nursing License Defense, Pharmacist License Defense, Psychologist and Psychiatrist License Defense, Dental License Defense, Chiropractic License Defense, Real Estate License Defense, Professional Counseling License Defense, and Other Professional Licenses law issues nationwide.
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