Request for Mental Health Evaluation by Texas Pharmacy Board or PRN

 

A Texas pharmacist who is suspected of having a potential substance abuse or dependency problem or other mental health issue which could impact their ability to safely practice is almost always asked by the Texas State Board of Pharmacy or Professional Recovery Network (PRN) to undergo an evaluation with a mental health provider (MHP). This request is typically made in one of two contexts:

  • A pharmacist has just been referred to PRN and is asked to undergo an evaluation to determine whether they suffer from an impairment issue, and, if so, what is the appropriate course of treatment; or
  • The pharmacist has been invited to attend an informal conference with the Texas State Board of Pharmacy about a disciplinary issue and is also asked to complete a PRN-coordinated mental health evaluation prior to the scheduled conference.

In both instances the pharmacist should be wary of accepting and undergoing this process unassisted by legal counsel, particularly if the pharmacist has some doubt as to whether they suffer from an impairment or mental health issue. I have seen many, many pharmacists who have unwittingly undercut their own case by failing to hire an attorney until after they are evaluated by an MHP.

The potential pitfalls of this process are multifold. First, the pharmacist is always asked to see a mental health provider who is on PRN's pre-approved evaluator list. PRN's list is primarily composed of licensed chemical dependency counselors (LCDC) as, pursuant to their contract with the Pharmacy Board, PRN is required to pay for the evaluation and, as a lower level provider, an LCDC can charge a much lower rate than a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist.

Besides not possessing the same level of expertise as a physician or psychologist, it has been my experience that the LCDCs on PRN's list tend to repeatedly misdiagnose pharmacists with impairment issues they do not have. A classic case is a person with two alcohol related criminal offenses, such as two DWIs, which are multiple years apart. According to DSM-IV criteria, the near universally accepted gold standard for diagnosis in this area, this fact alone would not qualify the pharmacist for an alcohol abuse or dependency diagnosis. Yet, time and time again, my firm has been retained by a pharmacist who was improperly diagnosed based on stale criminal history or other criteria not recognized in addiction medicine.

Also an issue, most LCDC's are employed by or closely affiliated with a treatment center. Because of this, there is often a presumption on the part of the evaluator that the pharmacist must have a problem simply because they have been referred to their office. Additionally, the LCDC's connection to a treatment center creates an incentive to find some diagnosis in order to justify treatment.

Finally, many of the evaluators on the PRN's pre-approved list suffer from the perception, whether accurate or not, that in order to stay on the list and continue to receive referrals, they must find problems with the pharmacists sent to their office.

All of these factors combine to create a pool of pharmacists who are misdiagnosed with substance abuse or mental health issues they do not have. Once a pharmacist has been diagnosed with a problem they will at a minimum be required to enter into a five year monitoring agreement with PRN. If they refuse, PRN is required by law to refer their case to the Texas State Board of Pharmacy. Once the Pharmacy Board is involved, the Board's disciplinary policies mandate that the person be placed on a five-year Board Order which requires full PRN participation as well as workplace reporting and restrictions. In either scenario, the pharmacist will be required to regularly attend AA, abstain from alcohol and any other potentially addicting substances, and undergo expensive inpatient or outpatient treatment.

In most cases, such a poor outcome could have been avoided had the pharmacist hired an attorney prior to undergoing an evaluation with an MHP either by command of the Board or PRN. Our attorneys have years of experience working with both the Board and PRN and are familiar with evaluators on PRN's approved list. We have the knowledge necessary to collaborate with PRN to locate an evaluator who is fair and holds the expertise necessary for an individual case.

In matters involving allegations of impairment the selection of an appropriate evaluator is oftentimes the single most important point in the pharmacist's entire case. Once a pharmacist has received some form of impairment diagnosis, the damage is often irreparable. If you have been asked to undergo an evaluation by either PRN or the Board, it is absolutely crucial that you immediately contact an attorney familiar with both entities prior to moving forward.

Professional Recovery Network Update: Courtney Bolin Takes Over as Program Director

 

In 2011, Courtney Bolin, LMSW, became the new Program Director of the Professional Recovery Network (PRN). Prior to assuming her duties as the new Program Director, Ms. Bolin had already worked for several years as a social worker / case manager with PRN. Since the start of her tenure, PRN has hired two new social workers, Ms. Emily Abel, LMSW, and Eden Folks, and instituted several notable changes in the program's operation.

For those unaware, the Professional Recovery Program is the official peer assistance program for the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, Texas State Board of Dental Examiners, Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, and Texas Optometry Board. PRN accepts both third-party and self-referrals concerning licensed professionals who may be suffering from some kind of impairment issue, whether related to substance abuse or mental health.

If the person is determined to have an issue for which PRN can provide assistance, they will typically be referred to an appropriate expert for an evaluation and any treatment recommendations. Following this the licensee will be asked to sign a PRN participation agreement wherein they agree to follow-through with their treatment plan and conform with standard PRN monitoring conditions, such as drug and alcohol screening for a case involving substance abuse. So long as the individual complies with their contract, their participation in PRN remains confidential. Because of this, PRN referral and assistance can be an attractive option as it avoids the involvement of the professional's licensing board and the potential entry of a board order, which may be public.

In representing numerous pharmacists, dentists, veterinarians, and other licensed professionals, my firm has in the past conflicted with PRN when the client's and PRN's interests do not necessarily match. This has even involved contentious civil litigation with PRN resulting in a substantial award of attorney's fees and costs to one of our clients. Thankfully, under Ms. Bolin's tenure such disputes have been rare and both my office and PRN have almost always been able to work together towards the client's best interest. In addition to this general trend I have noticed several other developments which represent a positive direction for PRN participants.  

For example, since assuming leadership of PRN, Ms. Bolin has instituted new protocols ensuring referred persons are better aware of how the PRN process works and the situations in which their case can be forwarded to their licensing board. In my opinion this had been a problem in the past as participants would contact PRN or even sign a contract under the misunderstanding that even if they elected to quit participating their case could not be referred to the board. Trust is integral to good recovery and a willingness to comply with treatment recommendations. Because of this I applaud PRN's upfront efforts to more clearly delineate boundaries and the limits of the program's confidentiality.

It has also been our experience as attorneys routinely representing pharmacists, dentists, and veterinarians before PRN and their respective boards, that Ms. Bolin is very willing to take a proactive approach and work with referrals and participants to ensure they are treated fairly and are not asked to comply with inappropriate treatment recommendations. This includes keeping an open ear to second opinions when the report and recommendations from the original evaluator are unreasonable or not reflective of objective data and prior treatment.

Finally, Ms. Bolin and other PRN personnel have been more ready to advocate on behalf of participants than was true in prior years. PRN has always claimed as one of its core principles a willingness to advocate on behalf of its participants, however, in my opinion such advocacy was often sacrificed to avoid confrontation with treatment providers or the Boards with which PRN contracts. As related above, recently PRN has been more involved in ensuring participants receive fair evaluations and treatment recommendations. This has also extended to other areas such as a recent case were PRN has been very helpful in advocating on behalf of a participant whose license is suspended in another state and all efforts at correcting this situation have been stonewalled.  

I am encouraged by Ms. Bolin's stewardship and the fresh start it represents for the program. Hopefully PRN maintains their current direction as I feel it is better for participants and more conducive to maintaining their trust, ensuring good treatment outcomes, and assuring sustainable recovery and health.

PRN and the Texas State Board of Pharmacy: The Limitations of Confidentiality

 

As many pharmacists are aware, the Professional Recovery Network (PRN) is a peer assistance program designed to aid licensees seeking treatment and other assistance with problems related to alcohol and substance abuse as well as certain mental illnesses. In this role PRN can play a valuable part in helping troubled pharmacists receive the counseling and intervention they need to regain control over their lives while continuing to exercise their skills and expertise through their practice.

 

While PRN is commendable in this regard, a recurrent problem I encounter in representing pharmacists before the Texas State Board of Pharmacy is that PRN does not fully disclose upfront the significant limitations in their confidentiality protections and their captured role vis a vis the Pharmacy Board. As an attorney, I frequently see this lack of full disclosure on the part of PRN result in significant harm to a pharmacist’s ability to defend themselves in any related Board disciplinary action avoid the imposition of a severe and prolonged public disciplinary orders.

 

There are two primary ways in which pharmacists can become involved with PRN: These are through a referral, either by the individual themselves or a third party, or through a disciplinary investigation initiated by the Texas State Board of Pharmacy. In either case, PRN will take an initial history and likely perform an in-house assessment on the pharmacist licensee in addition to having the individual evaluated by an outside expert. Following this PRN, will present the pharmacist with a contract asking them to agree to participate for a number of years in a list of recovery activities and other requirements. This typically includes agreeing to complete an intensive inpatient or outpatient recovery program, regular attendance of AA or other support group meetings, submission to randomized drug testing, and potentially other restrictions focused on their ability to function as a PIC or working without being unsupervised by another pharmacist. Another mandated requirement is a consent form allowing PRN to turn the pharmacist’s entire file over to the Pharmacy Board in the event they fail to comply with any aspect of the agreement.

 

The fundamental problem is that up until this point pharmacists (even self-referrals) are not told that if they, for whatever reason, decide not to enter into the PRN agreement then PRN will forward their full file to the Pharmacy Board. Based on the stories of many of my clients, prior to this juncture licensees are assured that everything they tell PRN is confidential. As seen above, this is seriously misleading and, in my opinion, arguably illegal.

 

By this point the pharmacist has likely made numerous statements and admissions to PRN which will be turned over to the Texas State Board of Pharmacy and used as evidence in any disciplinary action. The licensee has probably also undergone an assessment with an addiction specialist or other mental health professional. This expert’s report will likewise be forwarded to the Board. With the receipt of the above damaging admissions and other evidence, which likely would not have been made had the pharmacist been aware that PRN does not, in fact, strictly maintain their confidentiality, the Board’s case is already fully formed and ready to prosecute. The licensee’s legal options at this time are likely very circumscribed even though this is often the first time they may consider contacting an attorney. With little room to maneuver, the pharmacist can essentially be forced to sign a public and long-term Agreed Order that significantly restricts their ability to function as an ongoing concern.

 

What pharmacist’s need to understand is that PRN is the Texas State Board of Pharmacy’s statutory peer assistance program under the Health and Safety Code and as such can function as an arm of the Board in disciplinary actions. The first and primary consequence of this captured status is the disclosure of supposedly confidential information to the Board. In the future I hope to write about other issues with this conflicting mandate and the way it can subvert PRN’s ostensible role as an agency set-up to encourage troubled pharmacists to seek need treatment and intervention.  

 

The bottom-line is that every pharmacist who is dealing with or considering contacting PRN needs to be aware that any information or statements provided by them can be, and often is, turned over to the Pharmacy Board. Consulting with a Texas pharmacy license attorney either prior to or after you have made contact with PRN is likely a prudent step to ensure you aren’t unnecessarily jeopardizing your ability to continue practicing as a pharmacist..

Chemical Depndency, PRN and The State Board of Dental Examiners

Functioning under the authority of Chapter 467 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, the Professional Recovery Network (PRN) provides intervention, treatment & continued support and advocacy to dentist’s suffering from chemical dependency and/or mental illness with the goal of integrating them back into professional practice. Due to its confidential nature, the PRN offers an incentive for impaired dentists to commit to a program of recovery thereby avoiding potential harm to the public or themselves.

Entry to the program begins with a report to PRN. Concerned colleagues, friends, and family may report the dentist to PRN if they have information relating to the professional’s impairment due to mental illness or chemical dependency. In fact, a license holder who is required to report knowledge of an impaired professional satisfies that mandate if they refer the dentist to PRN. Frequently the dentist will self-refer themselves to the program, an avenue which is highly encouraged and can lessen the chance of a later disciplinary sanction. The Texas State Board of Dental Examiners also has the option to refer impaired professionals in lieu of a disciplinary action.

Once PRN receives a report they will contact the dentist and send them to an evaluation by a mental health professional. After evaluation, the license holder will sign a Recovery Support Agreement with the program committing themselves to treatment and a continued aftercare plan of recovery and also authorizing PRN to disclose their records if they drop out of the program or otherwise fail to adhere to their contract. This Agreement will outline the proposed treatment and incorporate recommendations made by the evaluator. By entering into the Recovery Agreement, the dentist consents to maintaining contact with the PRN Staff and an assigned mentor, writing quarterly recovery reports, and, if appropriate, undergoing random drug screens. The pharmacist’s mentor, who is a dentist with either a long history of sobriety or extensive experience in a twelve-step or similar recovery program, is there to support, advise, and advocate for the professional throughout treatment.

As long as the dentist adheres to the Recovery Support Agreement their treatment should remain confidential and formal disciplinary proceedings may be avoided. The Board may only disclose the dentist’s treatment and the nature of their impairment in a subsequent disciplinary hearing, to a state licensing body in another jurisdiction, or in response to a court order. If the Board determines that the dentist’s impairment is to such a level that it poses a potential danger to the public, they can only disclose that the professional’s license has been suspended, probated, or revoked, not the specific nature of the impairment. Yet, any disciplinary order entered by the Board pursuant to such a report will only remain confidential if the licensee agrees to the order and there is no previous or pending action, complaint, or investigation concerning the licensee involving malpractice, injury, or harm to any member of the public.

If the dentist fails to comply with their Recovery Support Agreement, then the initial report and the nature of the dentist’s impairment / intemperate use may become public and the Board may initiate a disciplinary action. PRN may also disclose the report to the Board if the licensee refuses to see a mental evaluator or undergo treatment. In these cases the State Board of Dental Examiners is likely to pursue disciplinary action as the problem will be seen as not being taken seriously or so advanced that additional intervention and consequences are needed. Even if the dentist is not actually chemically dependent or suffering from a mental health problem, they are not in a credible position to argue that point. Here, hiring an attorney becomes a necessity as the penalties imposed by the Board can be severe. Moreover, a lawyer experienced in professional licensing / administrative law and recovery from chemical dependency can ensure that the dentist doesn’t make any mistakes or admissions that can create obstacles to their recovery and future practice..

More information on the Professional Recovery Network can be found at the PRN section of the TexasPharmacy Association’s website: (www.texaspharmacy.org).

Pharmacists: Addiction, Mental Health & PRN

Authorized under Chapter 564 of the Pharmacy Act, the Professional Recovery Network (PRN) offers a means for chemically dependent and/or mentally ill pharmacists and pharmacy students to confidentially enter a recovery program with the goal of integrating them back into professional practice. Founded by the Texas Pharmacy Association, PRN provides an incentive for pharmacist’s suffering from mental illness or chemical dependency to commit to early treatment and thereby avoid additional harm to the public and themselves.

A person who has who has knowledge of an act or omission by a pharmacist that could provide grounds for discipline under Section 565.001(a)(4) or (7) of the Pharmacy Act- mental illness and intemperate use of drugs or alcohol respectively- may report the license holder to the PRN. In addition to such reports by concerned colleagues and family members, pharmacists and students are encouraged to self-report to PRN. The Pharmacy Board may also refer the professional to PRN in lieu of a disciplinary proceeding. Once PRN receives a report they will contact the pharmacist, if it was not a self-report, and refer them to a mental health evaluator. After meeting the mental health evaluator, the pharmacist will enter into a Recovery Support Agreement with the PRN committing themselves to treatment and recovery. The Agreement will outline the proposed treatment program and include specific recommendations made by the evaluator. By entering into the Support Agreement, the pharmacist or student will also consent to maintaining contact with the PRN Staff and an assigned mentor, providing written quarterly reports, and, if appropriate, undergoing random drug screens. The pharmacist’s mentor, who is either a pharmacist with a long history of sobriety or extensive experience in a twelve-step program, is there to support, advise, and advocate for the professional throughout treatment.

As long as the pharmacist adheres to their Recovery Support Agreement their treatment should remain confidential and formal disciplinary proceedings may be avoided. The Board may only disclose the pharmacist’s treatment and nature of their impairment in a subsequent disciplinary hearing, to a state licensing body in another jurisdiction, and in response to a court order. If the Board determines that the pharmacist’s impairment is to such a level that it poses a potential danger to the public, they may only disclose that the professional’s license has been suspended, probated, or revoked, not the specific nature of their impairment.

If a license holder fails to comply with their Recovery Support Agreement, then the initial report and the nature of the pharmacist’s impairment may become public and the Board may take disciplinary action. PRN may also disclose the report to the Board if the licensee refuses to see a mental evaluator or undergo treatment. In these cases the Texas State Board of Pharmacy is likely to take disciplinary action as the problem will be seen as not being taken seriously or so advanced that additional intervention is needed. Even if the pharmacist or student is not actually chemically dependent or suffering from a mental illness, they are not in a credible position to argue. Here hiring an attorney becomes a necessity as the penalties imposed by the Board can be severe. Moreover, a knowledgeable attorney experienced with recovery and the process can help to reduce the terms and impediments inherent in and Agreed Board Order       

More information can be found at the website of the Texas Pharmacy Association: (www.texaspharmacy.org)