Bellwood offers a specialized program to address the unique needs of healthcare professionals (HCP) with substance use disorders. The seven-week program is open to medical doctors, pharmacists, registered nurses, dentists, veterinarians, and other professionals who have access to controlled substances as part of their daily work. Other HCP’s, such as social workers and psychotherapists, are considered for the program on a case-by-case basis depending on individuals needs.
The Need for a Specialized Program
Healthcare professionals (HCP) have higher rates of prescription drug use disorders than the general population, especially for opioids and benzodiazepines, according to data from the United States.,,, This may be due to a combination of factors including the easy accessibility of these substances to healthcare professionals, shift work, caregiver burnout, and high levels of stress associated with job performance.
However, healthcare professionals (HCP) are also less likely to seek treatment because they often feel that they should be able to resolve their problems on their own, have a sense of obligation to their patients, or transitioning from an HCP role to a patient role can feel daunting. Additionally, they often fear legal and professional consequences of admitting that they have a substance use disorder. Fortunately, research suggests that the success rate of treatment for HCPs is very high—one study found that 95% of HCPs who successfully completed treatment were still licenced and employed five years later.
Specific Program Objectives
At Bellwood, we have been treating healthcare professionals (HCP) for many years and understand the distinct challenges that they face. During your time in treatment you will attend psychoeducation sessions to learn about your addiction; attend processing groups several times a week; learn Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) skills to improve your distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and mindfulness practices. You will work closely with an individual therapist to discuss your personal challenges that led to your addiction, and who will also help to liaise with your referrer to ensure a smooth transition after completing your treatment program at Bellwood.
Topics covered in the Healthcare Practitioner (HCP) Program at Bellwood include the following:
- How to navigate questions or concerns from colleagues and patients about your absence. How to manage reputational issues upon return to work.
- Return to work monitoring processes that may be mandated by your regulatory body. Requirements you are obligated to meet and helpful strategies to navigate these issues.
- Work-life balance: considering important areas of your life other than work, such as family, friends, leisure, health, and finances. For each important area, patients identify their barriers to achieving balance and create strategies for overcoming them.
- Identifying triggers in the workplace (e.g. access to medications, prescribing, work pressure) and the relapse-prevention strategies to manage these triggers.
- Caregiver fatigue: how to balance your needs with the needs of your patients.
- Other topics that frequently arise during treatment include fear of failure, intellectualizing addiction, dealing with shame, barriers to accessing ongoing recovery support, and being the “patient.”
We recognize that aftercare is as important for healthcare professionals (HCP) as it is for any other population. HCPs have their own unique needs and challenges and, like many other populations, benefit from the support of their peers. For these reasons, Bellwood hosts weekly meetings of a Caduceus (open to HCPs only) support group.
 Merlo, L., & Gold, M. (2008). Prescription opioid abuse and dependence among physicians: Hypotheses and treatment. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 16(3), 181–94.
 Merlo, L. J., Trejo-Lopez, J., Conwell, T., & Rivenbark, J. (2013). Patterns of substance abuse initiation among healthcare professionals in recovery. The American Journal on Addictions, 22, 605–612.
 Hughes, P. H., Storr, C. L., Brandenburg, N., Baldwin, D. C., Anthony, J. C., & Sheehan, D. V. (1999). Physician substance abuse by medical specialty. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 18(3), 23–37.
 Hughes, P. H., Brandenburg, N., Baldwin, D. C., Storr, C. L., Williams, K. M., Anthony, J. C., & Sheehan, D. V. (1992). Prevalence of substance use among U.S. physicians. JAMA, 267(17), 2333–2339.
 DuPont, R. L., McLellan, A. T., Carr, G., Gendel, M., & Skipper, G. E. (2009). How are addicted physicians treated? A national survey of physician health programs. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 37, 1–7.