The North Carolina Board of Nursing is required by state legislation to intervene when there is evidence that a nurse has an issue with substance abuse and is therefore unable to safely practice nursing. [G.S. 90-171.37(a)(3)]. Additionally, the NCBON has the power to mandate that recovering nurses participate in certain programs to help ensure that they can return to safe nursing practice. [G.S. 90-171.23(b)(18)]. According to the NCBON’s website and their Resource Manual for Drug Monitoring Programs, the Board of Nursing offers three kinds of programs for nurses with substance abuse disorders, two of which are for nurses diagnosed with substance abuse disorders and one for nurses that may develop a disorder. These programs are called Drug Monitoring Programs and are designed to protect the public by providing programs to monitor nurses with substance abuse issues and help these nurses return to safe nursing practice.
What is the Alternative Program?
The first of the three programs the NCBON offers is the Alternative Program (AP). This program is a voluntary option for nurses whose ability to practice may be impaired by substance use. A nurse’s participation in this program is not publicly disclosed unless disclosure is ordered by a court. To be eligible for this program, a nurse must be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder. The Alternative Program is designed to be a non-disciplinary opportunity for nurses to recover and safely return to the practice of nursing, and the program aims to minimize the amount of time between a nurse’s acknowledgement of a substance abuse issue and his or her entry into recovery by achieving an earlier intervention.
This program has several key components that are designed to closely monitor impaired nurses in order to protect the health and safety of the public. First, the program starts with three months of temporary inactivity, called abeyance, and then three to five years of monitoring. During a nurse’s enrollment in this program, the nurse must get approval from the NCBON for any employment as a nurse, adhere to any conditions set by his or her employer, have quarterly work performance evaluations, and complete random and observed drug-screening tests. A nurse has successfully completed the program after either three years of satisfactory employment or five continuous years of drug screening. After successful completion of the alternative program, a nurse may return to a full practice of nursing without conditions.
What is the Chemical Dependency Discipline Program?
The second program that the NCBON offers is the Chemical Dependency Discipline Program (CDDP). This program is also for nurses diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder who are not eligible for the Alternative Program. The objectives of the CDDP are very similar to that of the AP, which are to ensure public health and safety and to provide a way for nurses to recover from substance abuse disorders and return to safe practice. However, although the AP is a non-published and non-disciplinary program, a nurse’s enrollment in the CDDP is considered public information and is published on the Board’s licensure verification system.
The CDDP also requires nurses to complete random and observed drug screenings, adhere to employer conditions, and have quarterly work performance evaluations, but instead of a mandated abeyance, the Chemical Dependency Discipline Program requires a three-month suspension for nurses enrolled in it. This is the biggest difference between the AP and the CDDP—the CDDP is a published and disciplinary program. However, after successful completion of the program, a nurse may still return to a full practice of nursing without conditions.
What is the Intervention Program?
The third and last program that the NCBON offers is the Intervention Program. Unlike the AP and the CDDP, this program is not for nurses that have been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, but rather it is a voluntary alternative to disciplinary action to intervene before a nurse develops a disorder. This program is for nurses that have convictions for Driving While Impaired (DWI) or nurses that test positive for an illicit substance on a routine drug screening—such as a random or pre-employment screening.
IP aims to provide early recognition and intervention for nurses who are at risk for abusing drugs or alcohol. During a nurse’s enrollment in this program, the nurse must complete routine drug screenings, abstain from chemical and alcohol substances except for prescribed medication, and complete quarterly work performance evaluations. The nurse will successfully complete the Intervention Program after he or she has been employed in nursing for at least one year and has received four satisfactory evaluations, and after completion of the program, the nurse may return to a full practice of nursing. Just like the AP, the Intervention Program is not considered public information and is not published on the Board’s website.
Nothing in this blog post is intended to be legal advice or establishes the attorney-client relationship. This is for informational purposes only. If you’d like to learn more about professional licensing issues in North Carolina check out our site at www.northstatelawfirm.com. Our YouTube site can be found here. North State Law can also be reached at 919-521-8810.