Community Pharmacy

Rise in Irish pharmacists seeking help for substance abuse

The Practitioner Health Matters Programme, a free service for pharmacists, doctors and dentists in Ireland, reported a rise in the number of health professionals seeking assistance for depression, anxiety, stress and burnout.

Doctor consultants and GPs made up 75% of the 48 referrals to the programme in 2017, but the number of pharmacists seeking professional help rose to nine representing the second largest group.

More than half of the health professionals who contacted the service were women, and most people were in the 25 to 34 age group (the number of referrals decreased among older people).

Of those with substance abuse problems, misuse of prescription drugs was identified in 59% of cases, while alcohol was a problem for 29% of patients. In the misuse of prescription drugs category, almost half of the cohort were pharmacists.

One pharmacist who was suffering from a family bereavement resorted to taking prescription medications to aid with depression and anxiety. The pharmacist was referred to the programme after a colleague noticed the missing medications and reported it to the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland.

The report said the patient was stepped down from work to detox and had engaged well with the service, including taking up ongoing addiction counselling. “Now back working safely and confirmation of progress is communicated to the PSI with patient consent,” it said.

In another case, a pharmacist referred a surgeon to the programme who was self-medicating with tramadol by presenting scripts at a range of chemists. The report said the surgeon progressed well and was able to return to work.

The programme’s clinical lead, Dr Íde Delargy, has said health professionals were “very slow” to come forward when they have a mental health or substance abuse problem, sighting the potential barrier of having to report the issue to their peers.

“The key to overcoming this reluctance is to ensure that they will receive a high standard of care in a non-judgmental atmosphere and with complete confidentiality assured.”

Those who present to the programme are given a mental health screening assessment, after which a care plan is agree, with a range of interventions on offer including advice, therapy, drug and alcohol testing, and referral to specialists.

The not-for-profit charity aims to break down the barriers that delay health practitioners from seeking help, which can often fuel the problem.

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