JESSE A. MARKOS, ESQ.
Wachler & Associates, P.C.
Licensed Medical Professionals generally experience the same risk of developing problems with alcohol or drugs as those in other professions. An estimated 10 to 14 percent of medical professionals develop such problems at some point during their careers. However, they are five times more likely to misuse prescription medications such as opioid pain medications and benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs. Medical professionals are uniquely vulnerable to these medications due to a combination of stress, long hours and increased access. Those struggling with prescription medication abuse should immediately seek treatment. One option available is the Michigan Health Professional Recovery Program (HPRP). However, this particular recovery program may not be the right choice for all and some degree of caution should be exercised when considering a self-referral to the program.
The purpose of HPRP is generally to promote the health and well-being of medical professionals with substance abuse and mental health issues and also to protect patients from impaired providers. Medical professionals can self-refer to HPRP and seek help with a substance abuse or mental health issue. However, there is no assurance that voluntarily seeking treatment will not result in disciplinary action by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
After a medical professional self-reports to HPRP, they are subsequently assigned to an evaluator to determine if they suffer from impairment. If so, they typically have to enter into a monitoring agreement that includes some combination of inpatient or outpatient treatment, group therapy, individual psychotherapy, 12-step programs, monitoring meetings with HPRP representatives, drug screening, and workplace monitoring. Monitoring agreements typically last for 3 years and the costs associated can be expensive compared to other addiction-programs.
If HPRP recommends a monitoring agreement, the medical professional has little choice but to cooperate with all recommendations if they wish to avoid disciplinary action. For example, if an evaluator recommends extended in-patient treatment and the medical professional cannot do so due to family commitments or cost, they will be considered non-compliant and face potential disciplinary action. Unfortunately, medical professionals who object to HPRP’s recommendations are often not taken seriously and their complaints can be viewed skeptically. Moreover, it can be difficult for medical professionals to successfully defend themselves against erroneous evaluations due to a lack of objective and independent due process procedures. In addition, once a medical professional signs a monitoring agreement they can be reported to LARA if they fail to comply with any monitoring provision included in that agreement.
The HPRP program has been lifesaving for many medical professionals and it has been shown to increase the recovery rate of participants. However, for others it can be a coercive and punitive process. Given the potential cost and inability to effectively protest erroneous recommendations, caution should be exercised when considering a self-referral.
First and foremost, medical professionals struggling with substance abuse should immediately seek treatment. After making that decision, they may want to consult an attorney specializing in healthcare licensing to help ensure that their rights are protected while still making sure they get the necessary help.