Texas A&M Pharmacy offers specialized rotation in drug addiction


Drug abuse is a problem that is faced by millions of Americans every day. According to a survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2011, an estimated 22.5 million Americans 12 or older—or 8.7 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication in one month. That number was up from 8.3 percent in 2002.

Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy faculty and staff understands the importance of professional student pharmacists learning about addiction so they can put that knowledge into practice by serving as a resource for patients and their family members facing such situations.

Bree Watzak, Pharm.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice, takes students to a week-long program on alcoholism and other drug dependencies at the University of Utah School of Medicine each summer. The experience challenges students both emotionally and professionally, as they are able to see how addiction truly works by sitting in on 12-step programs and group therapy sessions of addicts, learning that addiction is not purely a choice of an individual, it becomes a disease.

The program allowed students to see addiction from the perspective of others, while expanding their knowledge of the disease, using innovative strategies and methods. Each student participant was made aware of the signs of drug addiction and that ultimately, anyone from any background could suffer from the disease.

As an option for professional student pharmacists who are interested in treating addictions, the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy will offer an elective to students in substance abuse Advance Pharmacy Practice Experiential (APPE) rotations at the South Texas Substance Abuse Recovery Services (STSARS) in Corpus Christi.

Students who take this course as an APPE elective will gain an appreciation of the disease model of drug addiction. This six-week experience will serve as the culmination of an experience that will give students a glimpse of the other side of drug addiction, the illicit use of both prescription and street drugs. This is a unique pharmacy program offered to very few professional students and will allow for a niche in their education and pharmacy practice opportunities.

“My colleagues and I wanted to get the students from the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy involved in learning about substance abuse,” said Ron Garza, R.Ph., pharmacist at DeLeon’s Pharmacy and a preceptor for the college. “That way, when they get out in their own practice, they’ll understand the behavior of true addicts. They will be able to know what to do if they run into someone with these behaviors, because it is a very critical area and they can be involved in intervention techniques.”

Though many families experience addicts in their lives, they only understand the physical and emotional aspects of drug dependency, never the chemical side. The program allowed professional student pharmacists to see how a single chemical can change someone and their personality. Students will learn that overcoming an addiction is something that has to be done progressively. With the newfound knowledge, students can fight side-by-side with those facing a daily battle with addiction.

“I was truly inspired and impressed by students who are interested in substance abuse and addiction,” Garza said. “I attended a program at the University of Utah School of Medicine and was moved by them and the fact that they seemed to have a spiritual experience. We have to keep students like these going, as they are getting into something magnificent. They will be great citizens and professional pharmacists.”

Watzak shared her excitement for the new APPE rotation and the success that students have had.

Students who are interested in preventing addiction, identifying those who are addicted, and reaching out to families of drug abuse and offer support can receive hands-on training through this program. More than anything, professional student pharmacists will be able to assist people who are suffering with addiction and help them to become loving friends and family members again.