If you’re a pharmacist or a pharmacy student and feel you have a problem with drugs or alcohol (or both), know this: You are not alone. The fact is, addiction is an equal opportunity disease with no limits or conditions relating to one’s age, academic background, intelligence, race or profession.
According to SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) estimates, 10-15% of healthcare professionals will misuse drugs or alcohol at some point in their career, a rate that’s similar to the rest of the U.S. adult population. However, there are a number of professional occupational hazards that are unique to working in a pharmacy, known to be risk factors associated with substance use disorders (a.k.a., addiction/chemical dependency):
- Accessibility to controlled substances;
- Stressful or unpleasant workplace issues;
- Lack of sufficient addiction education related to the profession; and,
- Professional shame that develops with impaired pharmacists and their family members, prior to treatment.
When pharmacists find themselves confronting the heartrending struggles and mounting troubles brought on by addiction—including facing the possible loss of one’s license to practice, as well as the respect of one’s family, friends and peers—it can bring on a great deal of shame, which can prevent them from reaching out for help.
Fortunately, however, a nationally recognized, legistatively enacted, non-profit organization has been around for decades designed to help healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, recover anonymously, without endangering their record or reputation.
The Professionals Resource Network (PRN) exists to help those in the healthcare field with recovery from addiction.
Given each state board has its own regulations and procedures for dealing with a pharmacist suspected of substance impairment, those who’re facing a substance abuse issue can turn to PRN with the assurance they can get the necessary support to find treatment for their addiction.
It should be noted an impaired pharmacist seeking help needs to adhere to the agreed upon treatment plan and comply with the terms of returning to the practice of pharmacy, if they are to remain in good standing with their local pharmacy boards.
According to their website, the PRN program was originally created to serve physicians and others working in safety sensitive positions. The primary mission of PRN is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public while supporting the integrity of the healthcare team and other professionals. Many healthcare professionals participate in PRN, instead of the disciplinary process, and the scope of professionals included under PRN includes pharmacists.
As for how PRN deals with protecting one’s license to practice as a pharmacist, their website states: “The Professionals Resource Network routinely supports participants who are in compliance with the recommendations of the Program given in the evaluation, treatment and/ or monitoring phase. PRN will work with hospitals, practice partners, insurance carriers, HMO’s, disability carriers, DEA, criminal courts, other state impairment programs and other state licensing agencies; and offer support for participants if they are deemed impaired.”
Tony Tommasello, RPh, PhD, former President of PEAC (Pharmacists’ Education and Advocacy Council) in Maryland, observes, “Being a pharmacist does not reduce the risk of a substance use disorder; we are like kids in a candy store.” Further, he explains, “Genetic experts believe that 50% of the risk for substance use disorder is DNA-related, and combined with the environmental factors of a pharmacy, the risk will increase. This DNA exists in people of every profession, but pharmacist rates are higher because we have access to these medications.” Tommasello adds that, “Knowledge about drugs does not protect us and can actually be a risk.”
Like other healthcare professionals who seek treatment in concert with PRN support, pharmacists are among those who have demonstrated a recovery success rate significantly higher than the general public (78% after five years of completion of their treatment program). The point being, if you’re a pharmacist (or know one) seeking recovery from addiction, reach out for PRN’s help to find a treatment center specializing in the support of healthcare professionals.
Baldisseri MR. Impaired healthcare professional. Crit Care Med. 2007 Feb;35(2 Suppl):S106-16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17242598. Accessed March 22, 2018
 Professionals Resource Network – Impaired Practitioners Program of Florida (flprn.org)
 Pharmacists Can Struggle With Substance Use Disorder (pharmacytimes.com)
Hicks, MD, R. (2014, March). “Social Factors Predict Long-Term Recovery and Inﬂuence United Kingdom’s Treatment Programs.” The Missouri Physician Lifeline, p. 3.