How my one lack of judgement led to my licence being suspended


‘Am I going to lose my job?’: A recently graduated pharmacist shares his story of how one night of drug taking led to huge implications for his career

Hi, I am a 24-year-old recently graduated pharmacist who had his licence suspended for being arrested at a music festival. It all stemmed from my one lapse of judgement which caused a traumatic domino effect of events. Here is my story and what not to do.

It was in February; I was excited to go to the next music festival where I would party with friends and strangers for one night – where I would forget all my stresses and just be lost in the music and alcohol. It wasn’t uncommon of me to go to these events, as my “friends” and I were huge fans of electronic trance music. It had been a stressful time leading up to that night, with added work stressors, responsibility of completing QCPP (quality care pharmacy program) and particular family issues I was dealing with.

Previous festivals I had been to were fun times to let loose and relax with some alcoholic beverages with friends and just have a blissful night. On the night of the events, the same things would happen – I would meet up with friends, take some pictures and line up to see our favourite artists coming from all parts of the world. Following the night of the festival, I would always take the day off work the day after, as I knew it would be tough and unwise to practice after a heavy night of partying and alcohol.

Fast forward to the night in question. A couple of drinks in and already feeling quite buzzed, I still in the back of my mind felt a deep level of sadness and stress from my regular life. I also suffer from clinical depression, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to be hit with random bursts of sad thoughts and anxious behaviour. It was then that one of my “friends” offered me MDMA and told me to carry a few. Being in a tipsy state, and being regrettably very trusting of those friends, I fell into that trap with the same thought – “it’s only just a few, it won’t hurt”. I took the MDMA capsules and thus began my night of mistakes.

Fast forward to later in the night, under the influence of alcohol and the illicit substance, a strong sense of complacency dawned on me. I wanted to go grab a drink of water. As I was going to get some water outside the venue, a sniffer dog came up to me and a police officer grabbed me all too quickly, before I even knew what was happening. Being dreadfully scared in this situation, all I could do was just agree with the officers. Never had I ever dealt with the police in this manner in my life before. I was grabbed and escorted by three police officers and sat down for questioning in an external part of the venue. With everything happening, it all seemed like a blur. Eventually, after a series of searches and questions, I was given a court notice and to attend court the following month to be reprimanded for my foolish actions.

Immediately afterwards, I pursued legal advice on the matter and was given instructions to go through SMART classes and voluntary urine drug screenings, and to obtain character references to support my own character. However, with this situation unfurling, what was most on my mind were the questions, “how will I tell my family and friends?” and “am I going to lose my job?”

Following this was the most dreadful and longest month of my life. Building up to the court hearing, I was consistently hit with an awful sense of guilt and sadness struggling to gather paperwork to support my case. With the lawyer I had to defend my case, I felt great lack of confidence as they too berated me and made it clear to me how dire my case was and how dreadful the situation would be for me. I was scared, and there would be times where I would be physically paralysed, with anxiety pounding on my chest. It was a horrendous experience that nobody should ever go through if they had a choice.

During that month, I ended up telling my family and close friends of mine. I was heavily berated by both family and friends, who were baffled by my lapse of judgement. My family was the worst with the great shame and disappointment I had caused for my parents. The word ‘disappointed’, in fact, is a huge understatement. Although my friends berated me heavily, they supported me through the tough times. Seeing the character references from my friends and older brother brought me to tears as I saw how much support I had to pull me through the situation. As time progressed, I cut ties from the bad influence of those “friends” who caused that situation to occur, where my ethics of life were challenged and broken by my poor judgement that one night.

On the actual court date, I was confronted with the judge who absolutely shredded me to pieces. She proceeded to give me the maximum conditions of charges without conviction, and went a step further to say: “If I could give you a longer punishment or punish you further, I would”. I was given a two-year good behaviour bond, which hit me with a sigh of relief, though it was only just the start of my worries.

I thought to myself at the time that it couldn’t get any worse, but I was wrong.

It was a lapse of judgement at the time, not consulting PDL or my employer about the situation so far. I thought to myself at the time that it couldn’t get any worse, but I was wrong. After self-reporting myself to AHPRA, they held an emergency meeting where I was put before two pharmacists from the Pharmacy Board and one person who was not a pharmacist but also from the Board. I was interrogated and, eventually, they gave me a temporary notice that as of the moment, “we will not take away your licence to practice as a pharmacist as of yet”. I thought that I was going to be able to keep my licence and that was the end of my worries. Again, I was wrong.

Following a condition set for me by the council to get a hair drug test, and them consequently receiving the result, they deemed me inappropriate to practice as a pharmacist and suspended my licence effective immediately in June. It hit me with a great level of sadness and anxiety. As yet I am unsure how long my licence will be suspended for.

I immediately reported the suspension to my employer and head pharmacist. Given the situation, my head pharmacist was incredibly supportive. However my employer told me, “being disappointed would be a severe understatement.” I felt like a failure—I failed myself, my co-workers, my family and friends, it all just kept collapsing one after another. The strong self-image I had developed over the years growing up had been shattered by this one action.

Despite the situation and the burden I caused to people around me – especially my co-workers who had to work overtime to support the loss of my licence – my employer gave me a chance to redeem myself. As a result of my licence being stricken, I saw the dire outcome of my mistake causing my co-workers to work 50-hour-plus weeks. Seeing them in such a state of mental and physical depletion, I felt a great deal of shame to have those around me so heavily affected by my lapse of judgement. I spent every possible hour I could to get the requirements that I would need to gain it back as soon as possible, through seeking advice and aid from PDL and a recommended mentor.

It wasn’t only time I put into getting all these things sorted, but it led to a great financial burden as well. With each passing day, financial issues continued to grow from signing up to ethics courses, paying the mentor, as well as seeking medical aid from a psychiatrist for my mental health. So far it has led to roughly $10,000 dollars of cost from that one incident. This doesn’t even take into account the great deal of impact on my own mental health.

With all that being said, this is my story of how one night of “fun” can lead to the awful loss of one’s registration and licence to practice. I urge those who think that the law will never get you or that it’s only “a small amount”—it doesn’t matter what amount. If you do anything illegal, you should know the risks. Don’t be as complacent as I was. If I could turn back time, I would never have touched those substances. That one night led to the crumbling of the pure foundations of my own life.

PDL provides immediate, 24/7 Australia-wide incident support and professional advice for pharmacists. To speak with a PDL professional officer call 1300 854 838 or visit www.pdl.org.au for more information.

The Pharmacists’ Support Service provides non-judgemental support over the phone when things go wrong. The call is confidential and anonymous. The service is available every day of the year on 1300 244 910 between 8am and 11pm AEDT. 

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22 Comments

  1. Kay Dunkley
    25/09/2020

    Thank you for sharing this story. We are all human and by sharing this story it is an opportunity for the rest of us to learn just how easy it is to make a small mistake which has big implications. Remember that the Pharmacists’ Support Service provides non-judgemental support over the phone when things go wrong. The call is confidential and you do not share your name. The service is available every day of the year on 1300244910 between 8am and 11pm AEDT. It sounds like the author had some good support and sourced some good advice. We provide a listening ear and help pharmacists who call us to find expert help when it is needed. We are there for all the pharmacy profession in Australia http://www.supportfropharmacists.org.au

  2. Kay Dunkley
    25/09/2020

    Thank you for sharing this story. We are all human and by sharing this story it is an opportunity for the rest of us to learn just how easy it is to make a small mistake which has big implications. Remember that the Pharmacists’ Support Service provides non-judgemental support over the phone when things go wrong. The call is confidential and you do not share your name. The service is available every day of the year on 1300244910 between 8am and 11pm AEDT. It sounds like the author had some good support and sourced some good advice. We provide a listening ear and help pharmacists who call us to find expert help when it is needed. We are there for all the pharmacy profession in Australia http://www.supportfropharmacists.org.au

  3. William
    25/09/2020

    It is amazing what the current generation get up to these days and their attitudes to not only breaking the law, but responsibility under general moral code, profession and basic ethics. Not too sure what “partying” means these days but seems always to include thing the are illegal, unethical and immoral.
    Pharmacists should know better, be strong advocates for not doing these things, educators against it; not being participants.
    This history will follow that person through life.

    • danguidone
      25/09/2020

      What do you mean “these days”? The current generation of young people is less likely to use illicit drugs or alcohol than baby boomers? (Source: the economist).

      • Kay Dunkley
        25/09/2020

        Agree Dan. I was told stories of OTC amphetamine use by pharmacists in the previous generation to enhance cramming for exams. We are all human and there but for the grace of God go I is the way I approach this scenario.

      • William
        25/09/2020

        Back in the 60s the hippy generation did for sure using mushroom hallucogens, LSD etc but they were generally not professionals.
        Not sure what “partying” means these days and would appreciate the current generation’s definition. From what I have gleaned from articles in newspapers it is not have simple fun dancing and socialising but always involved illicit drugs of some sort.

        • Jarrod McMaugh
          28/09/2020

          William, there is nothing about your sentiment that is correct here.

          The use of illegal substances has long been associated with ALL parts of society; drug use in the 60s is hardly the peak of substance use (although it is the most visible from a cultural perspective).

          For a equal but opposite cultural stereotype, look to prohibition in the US, where alcohol was used illegally but “professionals” in a very visible (and now cliched) way.

          • William
            28/09/2020

            Totally disagree with your assumption, in your “modern” idea that people not taking responsibility for their actions and thinking as everyone is doing it, so can I.

          • Jarrod McMaugh
            28/09/2020

            Well William, I didn’t specifically state it in my response, but I don’t adhere to the philosophy of “everyone is doing it, so can I”

            I definitely believe there should be consequences for people’s actions.

            In this instance, though, your assertion that this is the kind of trouble this pharmacist has found themselves in is a characteristic that is exclusive to “the current generation” is wrong. People of all ages and professions use drugs, and have done for quite a while. I guess a better “stereotype” to illustrate the idea of ‘professionals’ using drugs would have been cocaine… but whatever.

            Drug use happens across all spectrums of the population; no group should be punished for their errors more than any others; a professional shouldn’t be held more to account than another person unless their use of those drugs affected their ability to fulfill their professional role. Yes there should be consequences, but they should be proportional to the transgression.

    • disillusioned
      25/09/2020

      What’s wrong with ‘partying’ and why should pharmacists advocate against it? Is it “immoral and unethical” to enjoy oneself?

      It may have been an unwise move to use an illicit substance (for now) due to the risk of being persecuted but id (and many others) would argue that alcohol is much more harmful to society than MDMA. Have you ever heard of someone being hospitalised because the assailant was under the influence of MDMA?
      This link has a nice graph to show overall harm. https://theconversation.com/history-not-harm-dictates-why-some-drugs-are-legal-and-others-arent-110564

      If anything, Pharmacists should be (and already are) advocating for harm minimisation.

      • William
        25/09/2020

        Please define your idea of “partying”. No longer just meeting with friends and dancing.

        • disillusioned
          25/09/2020

          the act of “enjoying oneself at a party or other lively gathering, typically with drinking and music.”

          What happens at music festivals? people dance to music with friends.
          Sometimes drugs are introduced to augment the experience which is where the question of immorality comes in.
          IMO, using recreational drugs becomes immoral if the drug alters your behaviour to the point where you start to harm others.
          As Alcohol has been shown to do this at a higher frequency than MDMA it can be argued that drinking alcohol may be more immoral than using MDMA.

          Do you have anything against friends dancing to music over a few glasses of wine? or is it more ethical because a bottle of grange is involved.

  4. Timothy Kelson
    25/09/2020

    Sucks that this happened to you but there are two things that scream disingenous to me – the first is that if your “one-off” mistake of taking MD occured at a festival in February, how did a hair test in June reveal the presence of it in your system? MDMA typically isn’t present in the hair follicle for more than three months after consumption – if your result was returned and your licence was suspended in June then your momentary mistake mustn’t have been a one-off. Secondly your attempt to deflect blame for your actions on your former friends seems cowardly – it was your decision to take/carry MDMA at the festival and I dare say your attempts to explain that a friend pushed it on you are a misrepresentation. That’s not truly taking responsibility for your actions. Dragging your friends through the mud and portraying yourself as a little lamb that’s been led astray by wolves is ridiculous. Grow up.

    • William
      25/09/2020

      Fully agree, appears the person is more concerned about self than others and trying to deflect blame to mates.

  5. Sharon Miller
    25/09/2020

    Despite everything that happened at least you did take responsibility for your actions which is rare. You have learnt a very valuable lesson that hopefully will stay with you and allow you to become a better pharmacist and hopefully a good mentor to other young pharmacists who may go down the same path. You have taken your punishment to heart and now it is time to move on with your career

  6. Kay Dunkley
    25/09/2020

    Thank you for sharing this story. We are all human and by sharing this story it is an opportunity for the rest of us to learn just how easy it is to make a small mistake which has big implications. Remember that the Pharmacists’ Support Service provides non-judgemental support over the phone when things go wrong. The call is confidential and you do not share your name. The service is available every day of the year on 1300244910 between 8am and 11pm AEDT. It sounds like the author had some good support and sourced some good advice. We provide a listening ear and help pharmacists who call us to find expert help when it is needed. We are there for all the pharmacy profession in Australia http://www.supportfropharmacists.org.au

  7. Tony Lee
    25/09/2020

    A learning curve & honest enough to admit the error. Sincerely hope that with your age you can seek to be a real pharmacist.

  8. pagophilus
    26/09/2020

    Harm minimisation is an important part of the approach to dealing with substance misuse, but all proponents of harm minimisation must still promote abstinence as the final goal, rather than accept that drug use will always be part of society.

    And whilst I have no reason to doubt the story, I still wonder whether it really was his first time, or the first time he got caught. If it was his first time, thankfully the consequences were such that it will likely be his last.

    I’m currently taking the subject Substance Misuse Prevention as part of a postgraduate degree, and I found it most fascinating that many indigenous leaders do not accept the government’s harm minimisation direction. There really are substantial differences in cultures and perhaps it is time we listened to these indigenous leaders explain to us why they don’t accept harm minimisation and prefer abstinence.

  9. pagophilus
    26/09/2020

    Harm minimisation is an important part of the approach to dealing with substance misuse, but all proponents of harm minimisation must still promote abstinence as the final goal, rather than accept that drug use will always be part of society.

    And whilst I have no reason to doubt the story, I still wonder whether it really was his first time, or the first time he got caught. If it was his first time, thankfully the consequences were such that it will likely be his last.

    I’m currently taking the subject Substance Misuse Prevention as part of a postgraduate degree, and I found it most fascinating that many indigenous leaders do not accept the government’s harm minimisation direction. There really are substantial differences in cultures and perhaps it is time we listened to these indigenous leaders explain to us why they don’t accept harm minimisation and prefer abstinence.

  10. pagophilus
    26/09/2020

    This is a problem with culture, not so much with drug use. That’s secondary. Perhaps we need to be honest as a society and rename music festivals as drug and alcohol festivals with enough music thrown in to give them an air of legitimacy. If one wants a true music festival one can attend the summer folk music festivals in Finland, beginning with Kaustinen. Music Australia wrote the following in an article on it: “So there might be lessons that can be learned about how music is embedded within wider Finnish culture, and how this is reflected in its summer festivals. With so many of Australia’s popular music festivals presently racked by serious behaviour problems ranging from drug taking to sexual harassment and assault, it seems all the more imperative to look at them for some answers.”

  11. Jarrod McMaugh
    28/09/2020

    So here’s something to consider – this pharmacist’s experiences have been devastating on their life and career… and they were in a seemingly stable position in life before this as far as family and career are concerned….. imagine the potential impact on another person without the same resources or family structure around them.

    The impact of their decision has been fairly severe, in my opinion. Is the impact on their life proportional to their transgression? Even if you feel that the use of MDMA is immoral, should it impact a person’s career to this degree? Thinking again of another person with different resources or family support, would the impact on their life reduce their risks, or increase them?

    Consider further, what would have happened to this person if the drug they were punished for was cannabis… should this impact their career? Some might say yes, but if we further changed it and transported them to the ACT where it is no longer a criminal offence to possess or use it, would the consequences be the same? Should they be the same?

    There are a lot of complexities around what should or shouldn’t impact a pharmacist’s fitness to practice; being intoxicated by any substance while working is clearly more serious than behaviour outside of work, and in this situation, I don’t think the impact on their registration is justifiable…. it certainly doesn’t take in to account the health of pharmacists or other health professionals who may have a substance use disorder but fear seeking treatment due to the impact on their career.

  12. Andrew Kelly
    28/09/2020

    The thing that sticks out for me here is that this person is being made to feel a “sense of shame” because of the “mental and physical exhaustion” caused by their colleagues having to work 50 hour weeks to make up the shortfall. Surely this can’t be appropriate in the workplace? Is it really that hard to find a Locum?

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