‘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.