The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that 10-15% of healthcare professionals will misuse drugs or alcohol at some point in their career, which is similar to the rate of the rest of the population. However, there are numerous occupational hazards unique to pharmacists involving risk factors such as:
· Easy access to controlled substances
· Stressful or unpleasant work environment
· Insufficient addiction education relating to the profession
· Professional shame associated with impaired pharmacists prior to treatment.
The bullet-points above may seem obvious—especially to those working in the field of healthcare—but shining a light on the potential for trouble may prove beneficial to anyone who’s tempted to ignore or look with a flippant or unserious attitude toward such.
Clearly, a pharmacist’s ability to prescribe drugs naturally lends itself to getting and abusing pain-killers, opiates and other mood-changing drugs, if one is so disposed. Also, a pharmacist with a substance use disorder (aka chemical dependency) may more readily divert such substances to himself/herself to ‘feed their habit.’
The working conditions for pharmacists typically are challenging, including the requirement of sustained focus for long hours, the need to serve dozens, if not hundreds, of patients in discomfort per day (many often venting their ills and/or complaints), and the physical demands of standing on one’s feet the entire day.
While collegiate studies for pharmacists have begun to include more attention to addiction, it’s focus is often on how to help patients avoid addiction, rather than themselves. And the percentage of coursework dedicated to addiction still remains scant, in comparison with the rest of the standard curriculum.
Professional shame can be a powerful factor with pharmacists who find themselves afflicted with a substance use disorder. Given that pharmacists—like doctors, nurses and other credentialed or licensed healthcare professionals—have a lot to lose, they’re often worried about having their pharmacist’s license revoked or having to face the disapproval or scorn from their peers, either of which can prevent them from seeking help.
The bottom line regarding advice to pharmacists facing a chemical dependency is to acknowledge their problem, come forward to a healthcare professional in their network, and go through recovery anonymously, without imminent danger to their licensure or reputation.
The state’s Pharmacists Recovery Network (or other similar network) exists to help pharmacy professionals and students with substance use recovery. Each state board of pharmacy has its own regulations and procedures for addressing a pharmacist’s substance use disorder. And while impaired pharmacists can be reassured they can get the necessary treatment through PRN, it’s essential that they come in for an evaluation and assessment, keep open-minded about the treatment plan developed for them by the addiction professionals on staff, and comply with the terms of returning to the practice of pharmacy in order to remain in good standing with their local boards of pharmacy.
The President of Kentucky Professionals Recovery Network, Brian Fingerson, RPh, explains that, “Substance use disorder is a disease and does not indicate moral failure—that no matter what the substance (alcohol, marijuana, opioids, etc.), it works on the same reward center in the brain. It’s a chronic and progressive disease, and will only get worse. The prognosis is the person would end up in prison or dead if they don’t get help.”
That being said, if you think you have a problem, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Pharmacists have a high success rate of recovery, largely because of their licensure being at stake. But regardless of the reason(s), focusing too much on the past is not advised; but instead, moving forward from the present in a better direction, by opening up to the opportunity for treatment and recovery, which can lead to a new life, free from the struggles, suffering and consequences of active addiction.