A pharmacist’s registration has been cancelled after he supplied drugs to several patients without a prescription – and attempted to shift blame to his employers
Pharmacist James Fearon was arrested for drug-related offences in November 2014 while at work in a NSW pharmacy, a Civil and Administrative Tribunal has heard.
He was convicted on six counts of supplying “prescribed restricted substances” and one count of possessing a prohibited drug. He was fined $110 and placed on a good behaviour bond for 12 months.
Six days after the arrest, the Pharmacy Council of NSW imposed several conditions on his registration, including that he not practise as a pharmacist. These conditions remain in place, and Mr Fearon has not practised as a pharmacist since.
After a referral from the Pharmacy Council, the Health Care Complaints Commission conducted an investigation and decided to refer a complaint about Mr Fearon to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
“The conduct which is the subject of the Complaint relates to the period Mr Fearon was employed as a pharmacist [at two NSW pharmacies] from 23 August 2013 to 12 November 2014,” the Tribunal noted.
“In the Complaint, the Commission alleges, among other things, that on multiple occasions Mr Fearon supplied patients with prescribed medication without a written prescription.
“Many of the drugs alleged to have been supplied by Mr Fearon were anabolic steroids, drugs derived from the male hormone testosterone, known to be used by some athletes and body builders to increase muscle mass, strength, and endurance.
“Most of the drugs alleged to have been supplied were ‘restricted substances’ or ‘drugs of addiction’.”
Mr Fearon admitted to some of the matters making up the complaint, but not all.
The Tribunal noted that the central issues to be resolved included whether Mr Fearon had indeed supplied drugs without a written prescription to nine patients listed in the complaint, and whether he was a suitable person to hold registration as a pharmacist.
The Commission submitted records of patient histories provided to NSW Police by the proprietors of the two pharmacies, but Mr Fearon claimed these were “completely inaccurate”.
To support this claim, he contended that the proprietors engaged in several “questionable practices” designed to maximise profits, around the dispensing of generics; that the proprietors were responsible for poor recordkeeping regarding the S8 register, that practices relating to balancing the register were unethical, and that one of the proprietors, Mr A, illicitly used weight loss and testosterone medications.
He also alleged that on “many occasions” during his employment, medication was dispensed under his name when he was not involved with that dispensing occasion or was not at the pharmacy. All these claims were denied by the proprietors.
The patient histories, generated by FRED, constituted prima facie evidence that Mr Fearon was not only working on the days in question, but was the dispensing pharmacist on duty, the Tribunal found.
“Apart from Mr Fearon’s own uncorroborated allegations against [Mr A], there is no evidence before us to suggest that [Mr A] falsified the patient records by substituting Mr Fearon’s initials for his own in respect of drugs dispensed, or that anyone else did,” the Tribunal noted.
“Given that Mr Fearon has admitted some instances of dispensing restricted substances and drugs of addiction without prescription and has been convicted of offences relating to such conduct, the credibility of his claims against [Mr A] is low.”
The claims were not accepted.
In September 2015, after entering a guilty plea, Mr Fearon was convicted of five counts of “supply of certain substances otherwise than by wholesale,” to four people, three of whom were friends or acquaintances.
These included several 250mg ampoules of Primoteston Depot to four people as well as the supply of Duromine, Diazepam, Propecia and Sifrol to a fourth patient, all without a written prescription of an authorised practitioner.
Patient records had been created – but Mr Fearon listed the prescriber as not an individual, but as “Canberra Hospital” or “Woden Valley Hospital” (this hospital was renamed “Canberra Hospital” in 1996) in most cases, a practice the Tribunal noted was “creating a sort of alibi for himself”.
“Mr Fearon’s plea of guilty to the criminal offences implies that he had concocted this modus operandi to camouflage his illicit activities,” the Tribunal noted.
“This raises a serious question in relation to other transactions in which Mr Fearon is listed as the dispensing pharmacist and the prescriber is listed as a hospital rather than a doctor identified by name.”
The Commission said there were “striking similarities” between the admitted offences and the MO used in the disputed transactions.
Mr Fearon had since worked at an education facility and was described by his supervisor as a “model employee;” the Tribunal also heard that the offences had occurred while Mr Feaon and his partner had been undergoing fertility treatment, which caused significant strain.
A pharmacist who worked with him before the offences said she was “shocked and surprised” to hear of the offences as he had demonstrated honesty and conscientiousness regarding pharmacy rules and regulations.
“A puzzling feature of this case is why a person with an unblemished record, held in high regard by people of good repute, over an extended period dispensed medication to friends and acquaintances, including restricted substances and drugs of addiction, without a prescription,” the Tribunal noted.
But the Tribunal said it was not convinced that Mr Fearon was a suitable person to hold registration as a pharmacist, and cancelled his registration.
Mr Fearon was also disqualified from seeking re-registration for 12 months.