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Health care professionals who are dealing with substance use disorders face particular challenges, according to the executive director of an organization dedicated to serving this population. These professionals must learn to cope with the emotional challenges of having ready access to medications, says Maureen Sullivan Dinnan, J.D. of HAVEN.

“The disease of addiction is the same for everyone, but for health care professionals, relapse prevention strategies need to be different because of their access to drugs,” she says. “They need to be prepared to deal with how they will feel when they administer medication and see the patient’s pain is relieved, while they are also suffering emotional or physical pain.”

As with many other people, health care professionals who abuse drugs often do so not to get high, but to self-medicate to help them deal with having suffered trauma, Dinnan says. “When their coping mechanism is taken away, they may lapse because they have no other way to deal with the trauma.”

Her Connecticut-based organization is holding a symposium on Trauma and Recovery for health care professionals on November 1 at Quinnipiac University in North Haven. HAVEN is a voluntary confidential assistance program for health care professionals facing the challenges of physical illness, mental illness, chemical dependence or emotional disorder. It is designed as a peer-based process to encourage early identification of health care professionals who are at risk for impairment. The program helps health care professionals manage their own well-being in addition to the well-being of their patients.

“Over the last decade there has been a growing understanding that if health care professionals don’t get care for themselves, it not only hurts them, but may impact the quality of care they can deliver,” Dinnan says, adding there is a misperception that health care professionals are stronger or more able-minded than other people, and are therefore better equipped to deal with the consequences of trauma.

HAVEN has a high success rate that is due in large part to the monitoring they conduct, according to Dinnan. “We make sure if the person’s plan requires therapy, that they are engaged in therapy, and if a person doesn’t commit to therapy, we are notified.” The program also conducts random drug testing. They partner with a workplace monitor who is aware of the health care professional’s treatment, and can notify HAVEN if the person appears stressed and needs extra support.

While HAVEN has seen some health care professionals, including emergency medical personnel, who were affected by the Sandy Hook shooting, most professionals participating in the program are dealing with personal traumas, she notes. “Trauma comes in all forms, and seeps into our lives in ways that are very negative.” To register for the symposium or for more information on HAVEN, call HAVEN at 860-276-9196.

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