Keen-eyed pharmacist uncovers morphine misconduct

The pharmacist contacted police after discovering a carer was misappropriating a patient’s MS Contin tablets and substituting them with aspirin

A Queensland woman has been banned for life from providing any health services after it was discovered she misappropriated controlled drugs from a patient.

The woman, in her mid 50s, was employed as a home care worker by an aged care provider when she befriended a disability pensioner in his late 60s.

After ceasing employment with the aged care provider, she undertook voluntary home care work for the man for nearly two years.

The patient, who had limited cognitive capacity due to brain injury and dementia, was prescribed regular medication including MS Contin and one of the woman’s roles included collecting his weekly Webster pack medication.

Over a period of about four months in 2013, the woman removed MS Contin tablets from the patient’s Webster packs and replaced them with aspirin tablets, knowing that the aspirin would be taken by the patient and that he would be deprived of effective pain relief.

She was also aware that aspirin was contraindicated for the patient due to risk of further brain injury or death.

At the time of the offences, the woman was registered as a student nurse and enrolled in a nursing course.

Her actions were discovered when the patient attended the dispensing pharmacy to enquire about the efficacy of his medication.

The pharmacist observed evidence of tampering with seals of the patient’s Webster pack and substitution of aspirin tablets for MS Contin, and immediately contacted police.

Police searched the woman’s home two days later and located MS Contin tablets, syringes containing morphine, a complete Webster pack in the patient’s name with a commencement date the following day containing aspirin tablets and a receipt for the purchase of aspirin tablets.

The carer admitted to replacing the patient’s MS Contin tablets with aspirin tablets during the previous five weeks, telling police she had been addicted to morphine for a couple of years after being prescribed morphine for a shoulder injury.

She was charged with offences of fraud, possessing dangerous drugs and failure to take precautions in respect of a syringe, later pleading guilty in the Magistrates Court.

The woman was fined and ordered to perform community service, with convictions recorded.

During an interview with the Office of the Health Ombudsman in 2015, the carer initially sought to cast blame for the misappropriation of drugs upon a former partner and denied tampering with the Webster packs herself. However in most recent proceedings, she did not maintain denial and admitted all the particulars of the allegations against her.

The woman is no longer registered as a student, has never been registered as a health practitioner and has not worked as a carer since 2014.

In findings handed down last week, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal found the woman poses a “serious risk to persons” due to her conduct.

“The nature of the risk is that the respondent, in providing care to a vulnerable patient, might exploit the power imbalance between carer and patient to the detriment of the patient,” said the Tribunal.

“Her misconduct was calculated, prolonged and callous. Her willingness to gratify her own needs at the expense of the patient’s need for pain relief and her willingness to place the patient’s health at risk demonstrates a flaw of character incompatible with that required of a health care worker.”

The woman is permanently prohibited from providing any health service, including aged care services.

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  1. Kim Nguyen

    Just wondering why the incident occurred 2013, interviewed by Office of the Health Ombudsman in 2015 and only dealt by QCAT in 2021?

    What happened during all this time? And why is it a story now?

    • (Mary) Kay Dunkley

      Unfortunately it can take that long for these cases to reach QCAT (similar in all states).

      • Karalyn Huxhagen

        i see cases that are well over seven years old. The system needs to be better but it has a huge backlog of cases. This is a long time for your professional ability to practice to hang in limbo. So best advice is do not be dodgy and follow the rules. If you have a substance abuse disorder seek help before your ability to practice is severely compromised

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