Home' Australian Pharmacist : Australian Pharmacist February 2014 Contents Australian Pharmacist February 2014 I ©Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Ltd.
In her report, Impaired healthcare
professional, Dr Baldisseri makes it clear
that while the rates of substance abuse
and dependence are similar to those of
the general population, 'the prevalence
is disturbing because healthcare
professionals are the caregivers
responsible for the general health and
well-being of the general population.
'Healthcare professionals have higher
rates of abuse with benzodiazepines and
opiates. Specialties such as anaesthesia,
emergency medicine, and psychiatry
have higher rates of drug abuse, probably
related to the high-risk environment
associated with these specialties, the
baseline personalities of these healthcare
providers, and easy access to drugs in
these areas,' she says.
The report goes on to state that
paediatricians, pathologists, radiologists,
and obstetricians and gynaecologists
have the lowest rates of substance abuse
'Other healthcare professionals have
showed higher rates of drug use,
specifically nurses, dentists, pharmacists,
anaesthesiologists, and veterinarians,'
'Pharmacists may have a higher rate of
using oral stimulants but reportedly use
less parenteral drugs,' it finds.
All this data point to the fact that
pharmacists and other health
professionals, despite their high
educational levels, still face the same
pressures and influences which affect
other substance abusers.
However, the Canadian Council on Drug
Abuse (CODA) states that healthcare
professionals may be more susceptible to
drug use/misuse due to stress, easy access
to controlled substances, contact with
people who are seriously ill and dying and
'Doctors may also treat themselves with
controlled prescription drugs which could
potentially lead to addiction,' CODA says.
'As well, several areas of medicine and
nursing in particular result in higher
rates of substance abuse among their
practitioners. These include emergency,
psychiatry and anaesthesiology. It is
thought that people who have a
predisposition toward substance use/
misuse may be more likely to choose to
enter into these particular specialties.'
Steve Marty, Chair of the Pharmacy
Board of Australia, says that the Board's
27 notifications of impairment last year
ran the 'full gamut from mental health
issues to drug and alcohol abuse.'
'There are those who become substance
abusers and that includes alcohol and
drugs and there are those who have
some impairments and we shouldn't
be surprised about that as10% of the
population has been estimated at any
one time to be suffering from a mental
health problem,' he said.
'Drug issue impairment is always a
concern because no one rationally self
'There have been too many inquests
into deaths of health professionals who
thought they knew what they were
doing in self-medicating. Those people
have no insight into their own condition
although they may be very good at
treating other people but very poor at
Professor Lisa Nissen, Head, School of
Clinical Sciences at the Queensland
University of Technology, said she
believed pharmacists were at lower
end of the spectrum in terms of health
professionals' abuse of drugs.
'We know what happens; we know what
medicines are and what they do. Equally
pharmacists tend not to do recreational
drugs very often as we are aware of the
potential implications,' she said.
'There may be times when a pharmacist
might self-medicate for a minor ailment
but the incidences of pharmacists
maintaining an ongoing drug
dependency would be rare. We may
take an antibiotic but when it comes
to opioids and benzos we steer clear
She said in her experience the number
of pharmacists who abused medications
such as opioids and narcotics
was fairly limited compared with
'We might self-medicate with antibiotics
and that kind of thing but you will
find that the number of pharmacists
who are 'classic druggies' is less than
you will find in other professions,'
Professor Nissen said.
The Pharmacy Board's Stephen Marty
agrees, emphasising that traditionally
pharmacists haven't been involved in
drug abuse impairment to the extent of
some other health professionals.
But he warns, 'Just because we are
not aware of it doesn't mean it's
All this data
point to the fact
and other health
despite their high
still face the
which affect other
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