Doc was in ‘very dark place’ after falsifying script

tribunal hearing legal case

After surviving cancer, a health professional began to prescribe and use opioids illicitly

A medical practitioner has been reprimanded and his registration suspended for three months after he presented falsified scripts to a number of pharmacies.

The doctor appeared before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal over conduct that took place in 2016 and 2017.

The doctor, who lives with a painful disability, was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2016, requiring major surgery followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The next month, he also had minor surgery, for which he was prescribed oxycodone for post-operative pain relief.

He told the Tribunal that after this, he began to prescribe and use opioids illicitly.

“The event that preceded the behaviour was an episode of severe abdominal pain that distressed him psychologically and physically: he feared the cancer had returned and that it would be terminal,” the Tribunal noted.

After a few months in which the doctor did not use opioids illicitly, he experienced stomach pain again and was prescribed more opioids, which he said led to a further period of illicit prescribing and abuse.

The first complaint centred around the doctor’s having misappropriated blank scripts and knowingly preparing and presenting a number of falsified scripts to various pharmacies in 2017.

He obtained oxycodone from various pharmacies including Chemist Warehouses, an Advantage Pharmacy and a Terry White between March and August 2017.

From August to November, he obtained morphine sulfate from pharmacies including an Advantage Pharmacy, Chemist Warehouse and Discount Drug Store.

Some of these scripts used the name of a prescriber identified in transcript only as Dr Z, while others used the name “A Pane”.

He also prescribed non-S8 drugs, and said he was not aware that it is illegal to self-prescribe – though he accepted that ignorance was no excuse to do so.

It was alleged that the doctor had self-prescribed celecoxib, esomeprazole, paracetamol (Panadol osteo slow release), escitalopram and domperidone between January 2016 and April 2017.

The Tribunal noted that the conduct relating to the false prescriptions was dishonest, and a serious departure from the standards reasonably expected of doctors.

By taking S4 and S8 medications without clinical oversight, the doctor’s conduct “had the potential to seriously impact the care he provided to patients,” it said, as did self-prescribing the other medicines.

It noted the doctor’s considerable insight and remorse, as well as the low risk that the conduct would be repeated.

The Tribunal accepted the submission that the conduct “arose in the context of complicated serious health issues that have largely resolved”.

It noted that the doctor had given evidence that when he first falsified a script he knew he had crossed a line, and said that he ended up in “a very dark place”.

He told the Tribunal how his actions conflicted with his values.

The Tribunal said it had “considerable sympathy” for the doctor but needed to signal to the medical profession that serious adverse consequences would follow similar conduct.

It reprimanded the doctor and suspended his registration for three months.

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