It’s actually well-established by research that pharmacists—similar to physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals—aren’t immune to being afflicted by substance use disorders (a.k.a. addiction, chemical dependency), as well as the wide-ranging and often career-threatening, if not life-threatening, challenges that face other addicts who seek to recover.
And these challenges include even attitudes, beliefs and/or lack of sufficient knowledge about the nature of addiction and recovery, which can perpetuate a pharmacist’s addiction or be a relapse issue, even once he/she has begun seeking recovery. Some examples of these include:
- Not accepting addiction is a chronic disease
- The belief they have “gotten better” after their lives have returned to normal several years later
- Inadequate investment in Twelve Step recovery or follow-up recovery support (both on the personal and group level)
- Not buying into the concept that they are unable to safely use any mood-altering substance (e.g., “My problem was with narcotics, not alcohol”).
- A family support system that is uneducated in the concepts of addiction and addiction recovery, can unwittingly make recovery more difficult for addicts just out of treatment. Questions may be asked like, “Do you have to go to these meetings?” or “Why can’t you have a glass of wine with me? Your problem was with a narcotic.”
What two studies found was that recovery success was significantly improved when pharmacists’ addiction treatment programs effectively addressed the bullet-pointed factors above, in combination with systematic use of an aftercare plan that incorporates a sustained focus on these very factors.
When a pharmacist has completed his/her agreed-upon treatment program and has shown a commitment to recovery, the requirements for getting reinstated by their state pharmacy board in order to practice pharmacy again need to be addressed. What are some of the elements involved in getting reinstated?
Typically, the state pharmacy board will require the pharmacist to:
- Have regular contact with an assigned counselor
- Submit to random drug testing
- Participate in support group meetings on a regular basis
- Place pharmacy practice restrictions on the pharmacist
- Require remedial training and reporting, depending on how long they have been separated from the pharmacy profession and professional practice.
Working hand-in-hand with the state’s Pharmacists’ Recovery Network or Professionals Resource Network (PRNs), both of which operate in nearly every state in the U.S. Focused on helping pharmacists (and other healthcare professionals) recover from substance use disorders, they refer those seeking assistance to treatment programs specifically designed to use evidence-based approaches to effectively treat pharmacists (and other healthcare professionals) with addiction issues.
And while each state board of pharmacy has its own regulations and procedures for addressing a pharmacist suspected of or acknowledging he/she has a substance use disorder, with the assistance of PRN programs, a pharmacist can begin focusing on their addiction and receive the necessary treatment in confidence.
According to a study by Kendall, et al., typical requirements for pharmacists who have completed their treatment and contractual agreements to return to their practice include:
•Six months minimum in group/individual therapy or treatment program •Attend ninety recovery meetings in the first ninety days, then as designated in the contract •Assume financial responsibility for stipulations (e.g., urinalysis) •Submit to random drug testing •Find a recovery sponsor •Abstain from mood-altering drugs •Provide monthly progress reports to pharmacy board and employer.
The bottom line is that even with the support of the PRNs, a pharmacist seeking reentry back into the field may face multiple challenges in maintaining their sobriety—both personally and professionally—and may not be guaranteed pharmacy work immediately. However, the greatest chance of such depends on his/her successfully establishing and sustaining their recovery, and support of that is primary to the mission of PRNs nationwide.
 Merlo, L. J., Cummings, S. M., & Cottler, L. B. (2012). Recovering substance impaired pharmacists’ views regarding occupational risk for addiction. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, 52(4), 480–91
 Angres, D.H. (2012). Positive Sobriety (pp. 70). Chicago, IL: CreateSpace; Cross, W. (2015). “Issues surrounding relapse in pharmacists.” Presented at the American Pharmacist Association’s Institute on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependencies, June 7, 2015, Salt Lake City, UT.
 Milenkovich, N. (2013). “The impaired pharmacist: Rehabilitation, regaining dignity, and licensure.” Mental Health Clinician, 3(6), 313–5.
 Kendall, J. D. (1991). “Considerations in employing a pharmacist recovering from chemical dependence.” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 48, 326–9.
 About Professionals Resource Network (flprn.org)