Addiction and Professional Licensure
It is no longer a secret: the disease of addiction does not discriminate. Numerous studies over the past few decades have shown that substance use disorders ("SUD") are prevalent among licensed professionals. For this discussion, we are primarily focusing on lawyers, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and airline pilots.
Overcoming addiction is difficult for anyone. For the trusted licensed professional, there is an added level of complexity and distress caused by the concern over the possibility of losing his or her license and career. Additionally, professionals face the fear of how revealing the substance use disorder will impact their reputation among employers, colleagues, and clients. As a result, many professionals do not seek help in their struggle to overcome their substance abuse problems until they are faced with a disciplinary or criminal investigation.
If I'm suffering from a substance use disorder or mental health disorder, what resources are available to help protect my license and career?
Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania
Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers ("LCL") is an independent, non-profit corporation established to provide a peer support network for lawyers, judges, and law students who are at risk as a result of alcohol or drug use, gambling, depression, or other serious mental illness. Its services include a combination of helpline services, volunteer support, and education.
LCL provides its services for free and with complete confidentiality. The LCL will not report any identifying information to anyone without your prior consent.
Pennsylvania Nurse Peer Assistance Program (PNAP)
PNAP is established to identify, support and advocate on behalf of the nurse or nursing student who is facing disciplinary or other legal challenges as a result of substance use and/or co-occurring mental health disorders.
PNAP's services can include intervention, assessment, sobriety monitoring (a three-year program consisting of drug screenings, treatment, 12-step meetings, and nurse recovery meetings), referrals to attorneys, and advocacy at hearings.
Secundum Artem Reaching Pharmacists with Help (S.A.R.P.H.)
S.A.R.P.H. is Pennsylvania's pharmacist peer assistance program dedicated to helping pharmacists deal with substance use disorders and other mental health disorders.
Pharmacists or pharmacy students will be required to enter a three-year contract requiring their compliance with random drug tests and peer mentor assessments.
Pennsylvania's Physicians' Health Programs (PHP)
PHP provides its services for physicians, dentists, and other eligible healthcare professionals licensed in Pennsylvania dealing with substance use and mental health disorders.
Similar to other programs available to healthcare professionals, PHP provides assessment, referrals to treatment, individualized monitoring agreements and advocacy with the goal of safely returning participants to the practice of their profession.
Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS)
HIMS is an occupational substance abuse support program for pilots. The program utilizes the involvement of company representatives, pilot peer volunteers, healthcare professionals, and FAA medical specialists to determine if a pilot needs to be referred to Substance Use Disorder specialists. Once treatment is complete, the pilot can seek medical clearance for reinstatement of his or her license.
When do I need to talk to an attorney?
Licensed professionals who are facing investigations related to their substance abuse problems should consult with an experienced attorney immediately upon receiving notice that he or she is being investigated for disciplinary action or criminal charges. Physicians, dentists, and other eligible healthcare professionals should consult with an attorney before contacting PHP, PHMP, PNAP, or S.A.R.P.H. to ensure they understand the benefits and pitfalls of each program. It is essential to carefully plan how these issues are discussed with hospital administration and employers to ensure that the impaired professional's rights are preserved and to help him or her to health and their career.