Pharmacy’s Chemical Dependency Awareness Program Has Long Been Ahead of the Curve

Posted on January 16, 2013

The Mylan School of Pharmacy was ahead of the curve when it first started conducting its Chemical Dependency Awareness Program 28 years ago. Today, the program—which continues to be mandatory for all third-year pharmacy students—serves not just to educate and raise awareness, but also as a model for other schools across the county.

Dr. John Tomko

“Approximately one in eight people in the general population are going to be affected—most likely directly—by alcoholism or drug abuse at some point in their life,” said Dr. John Tomko, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy, who coordinates the annual program. “What is important about this program is that we want our students to get a better understanding of substance abuse disorder as a disease, but also to be aware of sources of help if they have a problem or know someone who may have a problem.”

The daylong program serves as an introduction to the subject for pharmacy students prior to their taking related courses in their curriculum. “Substance dependence or addiction, if you will, is so prevalent in society,” explained Tomko. “Often, people think they know what it is, but they really don’t understand the disorder itself.”

Topics addressed include the disease model of addiction; behavioral changes by those affected by it; the incidence of the disorder; and the neurochemistry behind drugs of abuse and what they actually do to the brain.

In addition, a segment outlines the resources of help that are available such as SARPH (Secundum Artem Reaching Pharmacists with Help), which is the Pennsylvania Peer Assistance Program for the pharmacy profession, on-campus sources and other community resources. The program also includes a presentation on the premise of 12-step programs, the legal implications directly impacting pharmacists, and ways to recognize addiction in other professionals/peers and in people in general and how to get the help that is needed.

Dean Dr. Doug Bricker presents on what the School of Pharmacy offers through its Office of Student Services to students who may have issues with addiction. Another session conducted by a specialist addresses interventions.

The program concludes with a presentation by a current pharmacist who is in recovery. “When we have the pharmacist who is in recovery speak, that is usually the most impactful part of the day because everything the students have heard or learned that day is summed up in one person who is still working and practicing pharmacy,” said Tomko.

The School of Pharmacy serves as a leader in the nation when it comes to educating students to this extent about addiction disorders, with many of the schools of pharmacy utilizing Duquesne as a model, according to Tomko.

“We do a student evaluation at the end of the program, and the students take away different things, which is our goal—we want them to leave that day knowing more than when they came in and we want to blow away some stereotypes that are out there. We want to de-stigmatize this and get people to say ‘Yes, this is an illness and yes, it can be treated.’”

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