Help for Alaska Nurses Facing License Issues from Substance Abuse Problems

Alaska can be a fabulous state in which to practice nursing. The state's incredible natural beauty, dedicated and resourceful population, and public and private commitment to wellness can all contribute toward making for a rewarding nursing practice. Nursing in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Badger, Knik-Fairview, College, North Lakes, and other cities, towns, and settlements can be personally, financially, and professionally rewarding. Yet nurses in Alaska, like nurses elsewhere, can face extraordinary professional and personal challenges, contributing to substance abuse, dependency, and addiction issues. And when those issues reach the attention of colleagues, patients, and employers, they also find their way into the hands of nursing license disciplinary officials.  

If you face substance abuse allegations in your Alaska nursing practice, Alaska Board of Nursing officials may offer you the opportunity to participate in the Board's alternative probation program. Yet beware of any such offer, any referral to such a program, or your own voluntary participation in such a program. Alternative to discipline programs can lead to loss of your nursing license and ability to practice nursing. Let the Lento Law Firm's premier Professional License Defense Team help you evaluate the Alaska Board of Nursing's alternative probation program. You may be far better off defending the associated substance abuse disciplinary charges with our skilled and experienced representation. Call 888.535.3686 or complete this contact form now to retain us and protect your Alaska nursing license and practice. 

Nationwide Nursing Substance Abuse, Dependency, and Addiction Issues 

Nurses facing substance abuse issues have plenty of company, not just among other nurses but among healthcare workers generally. Healthcare workers often have unusual access to prescription medications, anesthetics, and other mood-altering substances. Nurses often also know the medicating effects of those substances. That knowledge and access can create significant temptations to abuse substances, creating addictions and dependencies. The Journal of Nursing Regulation thus publishes a study showing increased substance abuse rates among nurses, beyond the rates seen in the general population. You are not alone if substance abuse is your nursing issue. As many as one in every five nurses faces such an issue. 

The challenges of nursing practice enhance the risk of substance abuse. As rewarding as nursing can be, nursing can also create significant physical, mental, and emotional challenges, as any nurse knows well. Patients are often in debilitated and even terminal conditions. Physicians demand strict attention to orders and patient changes. Patients and their family members may blame nurses for various conditions and reactions. The physical aspect of nursing can lead to chronic conditions and acute injuries. And the unusual schedules some nursing practices require add other stresses. Self-medication with drugs and alcohol may be the incautious nurse's choice. Let us help with disciplinary concerns arising out of any such issues. 

Nursing Substance Abuse Disciplinary Causes 

Any number of circumstances beyond your ordinary control may trigger and cause disciplinary issues relating to your substance abuse, dependency, or addiction. If you worked outside of the healthcare field, such as in a trade, you might avoid substance abuse detection for years or an entire career. But nursing brings you into incredibly close and constant contact with patients and their family members, any of whom may observe signs of your intoxication or impairment. Physicians, nursing supervisors, nursing colleagues, and other health professionals may likewise observe your substance abuse signs and symptoms and have a professional duty to report those suspicions. Employer representatives may even require a nurse under suspicion to answer questions or submit to testing. 

Drunk driving charges, civil infractions for open intoxicants or disorderly conduct, and even divorce allegations and domestic violence complaints can reveal suspected substance abuse issues to professional acquaintances, employers, and disciplinary officials. Changes in your dress, hygiene, physical or mental health, or demeanor may also trigger suspicions and reports. You don't control disclosure of your substance abuse issue to the degree you might expect. Get our help when suspicions arise. We may be able to help you address those suspicions before they result in disciplinary charges. 

Alaska Nursing Practice Regulation 

Alaska's Nurse Practice Act, codified in Alaska Statutes Sections 08.68.010 et seq., authorizes the state's Board of Nursing to license and regulate nurses who desire to practice nursing in the state. Section  08.68.010 creates the Board of Nursing, while Section 08.68.100 authorizes and requires the Board to license and regulate nurses. Sections 08.68.270 and 08.68.275 authorize the Board to deny, suspend, or revoke a license on specific disciplinary grounds. Section 08.68.275 also authorizes the Board of Nursing to limit and impose conditions on a license, impose probation on a license while requiring the nurse to report to the Board, and restore a limited, suspended, or revoked license once the involved nurse satisfies the Board's condition for reinstatement. Respect the Board of Nursing's power to discipline your license. Get our help defending Board disciplinary charges. 

Alaska Nurse Substance Abuse Discipline 

Alaska's Nurse Practice Act specifically authorizes license discipline related to substance abuse, dependency, and addiction issues the involved nurse is suffering. The Act's Section 08.68.275(3) authorizes discipline when a nurse “habitually abuses alcoholic beverages, or illegally uses controlled substances.” Related sections of the same statute authorize discipline when a nurse practices “while afflicted with physical or mental illness, deterioration, or disability that interferes” with nursing functions or engages in conduct that presents “significant risk to the health or safety of a client or in injury to a client.” Related disciplinary regulations, codified at 12 Alaska Administrative Code 44.720(a)(5), authorize discipline on those same substance abuse grounds or if the nurse “fails or refuses to participate in a rehabilitation program acceptable to the board.” The Board of Nursing has the authority to discipline for misconduct related to substance abuse issues. Beware the Board's authority. Get our help when facing such charges. 

Alaska Nurse Disciplinary Actions 

You might assume that professional disciplinary proceedings are entirely or relatively confidential. On the contrary, the Alaska Board of Nursing publishes disciplinary actions online for the world to see. Those reports disclose the name, license number, disciplinary offense, and sanction for each nurse suffering from the Alaska Board of Nursing discipline. Those actions include examples of nurses practicing while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Beware of disciplinary charges. Let our skilled and experienced attorneys help you defend and defeat the charges while also advising you whether you should consider participating in Alaska's alternative probation program.  

Alaska Alternative Probation Program 

You can see from the above citation of the Alaska Nurse Practice Act authority that the Alaska Board of Nursing has the authority to impose probation on a nurse while the nurse completes the Board's requirements for reinstatement in good standing. The Board of Nursing accordingly adopted the regulation codified at 12 Alaska Administrative Code 44.740 to offer a nurse-facing discipline an alternative probation program. The regulation states that “whether a licensee may participate in an alternative probation program is at the discretion of the board.” However, the regulation goes on to state that the participating nurse must “meet the terms of the probation required by the board under the alternative probation program.” You may well have an alternative probation program available to you. Whether you should consent to the program or instead fight the disciplinary charges remains an important question. Let us help you answer that question to protect your nursing license and career. 

Alaska Alternative Probation Program Conditions 

According to an annual report, the Alaska Board of Nursing continues to work on new alternative probation program regulations. The current regulation 12 Alaska Administrative Code 44.740 authorizes the Board's disciplinary officials to subject program participants to any or all of the following terms and conditions: 

  • “physical and mental health examinations” officials choose to determine the “ability to perform the professional duties of a nurse” under 12 Alaska Administrative Code 44.740(a)(1); 
  • completing “an ongoing program of rehabilitative counseling, alcoholics anonymous, narcotics anonymous, or an impaired nurse group,” with care provider reports to the board, under 12 Alaska Administrative Code 44.740(a)(2); 
  • abstention from using any alcohol or controlled substance, other than medicines a physician prescribes, under 12 Alaska Administrative Code 44.740(a)(3) and (4); 
  • submitting to drug and alcohol tests and providing samples at the times, places, and frequency the board requires, under 12 Alaska Administrative Code 44.740(a)(5)(a); and 
  • restricted access to controlled substances in the workplace, under 12 Alaska Administrative Code 44.740(b). 

Alaska Alternative Probation Program Confidentiality 

Just like you would hope to keep any disciplinary charges or action confidential, you might also reasonably hope and expect to keep your participation in Alaska's alternative probation program confidential. Why, after all, should your employer, colleagues, or patients learn of your substance abuse evaluation and treatment? Indeed, the Alaska Board of Nursing regulation codified at 12 Alaska Administrative Code 44.740 requires that the Board “keep a licensee's participation in an alternative probation program confidential, except as required by law.” You may be able to keep your participation confidential if you can complete it as required, and its terms do not require you to disclose your participation. 

But you may find it far more likely that others will learn of your Alaska alternative probation program participation. Of course, if you fail to comply, and the Board of Nursing pursues disciplinary charges over your non-compliance, then any disciplinary action will be public, as shown above. Yet you may also find it necessary to tell your employer when you must be away from nursing assignments for drug or alcohol testing, evaluations, examinations, and reporting required by your program plan. Those requirements are likely to be so frequent, strict, and burdensome that not only your employer but also your colleagues and maybe even your patients will learn or surmise. And all the program providers, who, after all, maybe within your healthcare professional community, will also know. You may find it far better to confidentially obtain your own substance abuse help on your own terms and time.  

Entering the Alaska Alternative Probation Program 

Nurses entering disciplinary diversion programs like the Alaska Board of Nursing's alternative probation program usually get there in one of three ways. Some nurses self-refer, seeking out the resource on their own before anyone refers them, or they face disciplinary charges. You may believe that doing so is wise. But you may find it far better to simply access your own substance abuse resources outside of the Board of Nursing's formal alternative probation program. Why add the risk of non-compliance with the formal program if you can simply get the same or similar services on your own? 

In other cases, a nurse's supervising nurse or physician, colleagues, or a human resources manager from the nurse's employer may contact the Alaska Alternative Probation program, asking that the program's officials reach out to the nurse suspected of substance abuse. You may, in other words, hear from a program official that others have anonymously reported your suspected abuse. Once again, your better response than accepting the official's offer of program participation may be to follow your own program without the risks of non-compliance with the formal program. 

In still other cases, the Alaska Board of Nursing's disciplinary officials may contact you, indicating that they have complaints and evidence of your substance abuse, addiction, or dependency, and urging you to participate in the alternative probation program to avoid disciplinary charges. You may feel that those officials are pressuring you to participate, threatening you with discipline if you do not. In that case, you need our attorneys' skilled and experienced representation to evaluate the threat of discipline against the risks of program participation. Do not let disciplinary officials pressure you into a bad decision that later causes you to lose your nursing license. 

Negotiating Alaska Alternative Probation Program Terms 

It should be clear to you by now that you may have better choices than Alaska alternative probation program participation on the terms that program administrators first offer you when you receive a referral to the program from a colleague, supervisor, or disciplinary official. Alternative probation program administrators will have the usual practices they follow to evaluate, treat, counsel, test, and monitor nurses in their program. But usual practices may require far more time, cost, and effort than your substance abuse, addiction, or dependency issue requires. Typical program terms may not fit your work schedule, school schedule, family responsibilities, transportation, or financial abilities.  

Fortunately, you may not have to accept the program's first offer of terms. Our attorneys may be able to point out to disciplinary officials and program officials that your needs and capacities differ in important ways that the program should reasonably accommodate. In other words, we may be able to help you avoid a program that sets you up for failure rather than success. The last thing you need is for your substance abuse program to cause you more stress than previously. You need solutions, not more problems. Our attorneys can help you ensure that if you decide to participate, you participate only on reasonable terms that you have a good chance of satisfying.  

Alaska Alternative Probation Program Accountability 

Make no mistake: if you commit to the Alaska Board of Nursing's alternative probation program under an order from the Board to avoid discipline, the plan will very likely include a term and condition for license discipline if you fail or refuse to complete the program. That's how disciplinary officials and program officials keep you accountable to the program. Discipline is the leverage or stick over your head to ensure that you pay attention to every plan detail. When you enter such a plan, you can substantially increase the risk of your discipline over having to face the underlying disciplinary issues.  

You may find it far better that we help you defend and defeat the charges than enter into an onerous and unreasonable plan with which you cannot comply. You may find yourself having to jump through hoops and complete program requirements that have no bearing on your substance abuse or dependency issues. You may find that the plan was imposing so much additional stress on your professional life when stress was already your main problem. Beware of plan terms and conditions because these plans have ways of holding you accountable not just to your health but to the plan's technical details.  

Alaska Alternative Probation Program Length 

The Alaska Board of Nursing's rules for its alternative probation program do not limit the length of probation. But under 12 Alaska Administrative Code 44.720, the Alaska Board of Nursing has the discretion to impose a license suspension of up to two years plus license probation of an additional two years while the involved nurse completes terms and conditions for reinstatement. And in other states, similar alternatives to discipline programs permit the programs to continue for periods of two, three, or even five years. Thus, while you may think that you would be done with your program within a few months, and surely in less than one year, to the contrary, your program may continue for years after you have addressed your substance abuse, addiction, or dependency issues. Beware of long program lengths. The longer your program, the more chance you have to fail to comply and thus suffer discipline for non-compliance without regard to any substance abuse issue. 

Alaska Alternative Probation Program Issues 

You should now see several of the substantial risks you face when you enter the Alaska alternative probation program under a Board of Nursing order or after a referral to avoid discipline. The rest of this discussion organizes those issues so that you can give them serious thought while seeking the advice and sound counsel of our skilled and experienced attorneys.  

Alaska Alternative Probation Program Substantive Issues 

Your participation in Alaska's alternative probation program can cause you substantial issues in your personal life and professional practice. You may not find it hard to abstain from all alcohol and drugs other than prescribed medications. But making it to the testing site for every test, the evaluation site for every examination, and the counseling or other treatment sites for every session can create enormous logistical burdens around family responsibilities, available transportation, and work and school schedules. Paying for all that service can create substantial financial hardship. You may simply not need the evaluation, treatment, counseling, and testing but have to submit to it anyway when it will be counterproductive and a hardship. 

Alaska Alternative Probation Program Procedural Issues 

You may also recognize the procedural unfairness that you must respond to disciplinary demands for program participation that appear to give you no real choice in the matter. Disciplinary and program officials may purport to give you independent advice that you should or must enter the program as they offer it. But their advice is not independent. They have their own goals and interests, directly adverse at times to your own goals and interests. Instead, get our independent and trustworthy advice. We may be able to help you see, propose, and negotiate for better options than the officials first present. 

Alaska Alternative Probation Program Non-Compliance Issues 

The biggest issue you may face, bigger than the hardship of program compliance and the unfairness of responding to leveraged participation demands, is the risk of non-compliance with your program. As you've seen from the above discussion, you may be setting yourself a trap when you enter into a program, the terms of which you may find hard or impossible to satisfy. Beware of setting yourself up for failure. Let us help you evaluate offers and negotiate reasonable terms, or simply fight the disciplinary charges. 

Premier Alaska Nursing License Defense 

The Lento Law Firm's premier Professional License Defense Team is available in cities, towns, and settlements across Alaska to advise and represent you about whether to participate in the Board of Nursing's alternative probation program. We can alternatively help you fight any associated disciplinary charges when that is your better option. Call 888.535.3686 or complete this contact form now to retain our Professional License Defense Team. 


Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are committed to answering your questions about Physician License Defense, Nursing License Defense, Pharmacist License Defense, Psychologist and Psychiatrist License Defense, Dental License Defense, Chiropractic License Defense, Real Estate License Defense, Professional Counseling License Defense, and Other Professional Licenses law issues nationwide.
The Lento Law Firm will gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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