The Professional, Practicing Addict and Licensing Boards
It was in the early 1990’s when I first heard that roughly 10% of the population has an addiction problem. “That might be true for the general population, but certainly not for professionals,” was my immediate reaction. It took me a while to get the facts, but I now believe that, if anything, 10% may be a low estimate.
I was a member of the State Board of Examiners at the time. My specific task was to create a committee that would deal with addicted licensed professionals. The committee would direct affected licensees to appropriate treatment centers, 12 step and other recovery programs, and provide sponsors who had similar backgrounds. The committee would make case specific recommendations to the Board, which has the power to suspend licenses and order the licensee to treatment. The committee consisted of professionals with many years of recovery and addiction treatment specialists. We identified the appropriate committee members, and got started.
It didn’t take me long to learn that I was the least knowledgeable member of the committee. I still thought of alcoholics as obviously impaired and perhaps there might be a couple of our licensees that fit the description, but certainly only a few. Wrong again. Now, I do not want to give the impression that professionals are all impaired. However, they are humans, and subject to the same stresses at home and work as anyone else……..in fact, probably more so. So, the committee was formed and put into action.
Professionals came to the committee in one of two ways, either voluntarily or through a formal complaint. The voluntary group was counseled, directed to appropriate therapy and maintenance, and monitored by the committee. The licensees who came through the complaint process were dealt with through the administrative law process of the Board. These men and women went through a formal evaluation by addiction professionals. A course of action was proposed to the Board and legal action was taken. The actions ranged from local treatment and monitoring with probation, to license suspension and in-house treatment for up to 6 months, followed by closely supervised monitoring for years, usually including unannounced bodily fluid collections.
Over the next few years, we saw the committee’s activities grow. They successfully helped many professionals improve their lives and also remove a potential danger to the public. As a Board member, we dealt with addictions to alcohol, prescription drugs, anesthetic agents, methamphetamine, nitrous oxide and also some behaviorally addictions.
The lessons I learned? There are more addicts out there than you realize, and these programs work.
Dr. Ronald Peterson