Pharmacist brought down by addiction

A Victorian pharmacist-cum-doctor has had his pharmacist registration cancelled and medical licence restricted due to ongoing criminal offences driven by a rampant drug addiction

It was when Gyu Sung Lee, 28, was working 36 hours per week as a pharmacist while studying for his medical degree that he lapsed into drug addiction.

Struggling with difficulties surrounding his domestic life, Dr Lee sought relief in medications obtained with false prescriptions.

While undertaking a work placement at the Royal Children’s Hospital, he decided to steal a prescription pad and began using it to produce false prescriptions for himself.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard that between January and November 2013, Dr Lee used false prescriptions to dishonestly obtain naproxen, tramadol, oxazepam, dexamphetamine, prednisolone, methotrexate, folic acid, paracetamol, pantoprazole, alprazolam, clonidine, escitalopram, methylphenidate and lorazepam.

In October 2014, Victoria Police arrested and interviewed Dr Lee. On searching his residence they found Ritalin tablets, fentanyl patches and buprenorphine patches.

They also discovered cocaine, cannabis and psilocybin.

Dr Lee was charged with theft, dishonestly obtaining property by deception, and possession of drugs of dependence, but was released on good behaviour bond for a period of six months.

Melbourne University Medical School decided, on appeal, to allow Dr Lee to continue his studies.

He graduated and took up an internship at Goulburn Valley Health from mid-2015 to mid-2016.

The Medical Board of Australia conducted an investigation into Dr Lee’s conduct and granted him provisional registration as a medical practitioner subject to conditions.

It seemed Dr Lee was on a positive trajectory, with all signs pointing to reformation.

However, it was discovered in late 2015 that Dr Lee had stolen a prescription pad from the Goulburn Valley Base Hospital.

He had used this script pad to write prescriptions for himself, using the details of a fellow hospital doctor and fictitious patients.

Between December 2015 and July 2016, Dr Lee attended several Victorian pharmacies with falsified scripts to obtain pregabalin, tramadol, oxycodone, zolpidem tartrate, prednisolone and temazepam.

The doctor whose details he had used to falsify the scripts was notified, and he reported the matter to Victoria Police.

Dr Lee again found himself before the Magistrate’s Court pleading guilty to criminal charges.

In a statement, he apologised for his actions and admitted that he had not realised that he had an addiction problem.

“I am really sorry for putting everybody in this position. When I relapsed, even at the time I didn’t think I had a problem. In 2014 I got done for the same thing, possess[sic] illicit drugs. I did get help but didn’t have the insight and was in denial about being addicted to or [having] a drug problem,” said Dr Lee.

The tribunal found that, while Dr Lee had not worked as a pharmacist since March 2014 nor as a medical practitioner since August 2016, his conduct was “inconsistent with him being a fit and proper person to hold registration in the profession”.

“Stealing a prescription pad… forging prescriptions, using the name of a doctor and fictitious patient names to record on the prescriptions, and then consuming medications obtained, breaches obvious fundamental trusts which the community places in pharmacists,” said the tribunal in its decision.

“Dr Lee’s conduct betrays the fundamental basis of pharmacists’ professional obligations… Of course, he also engaged in criminal conduct. He only stopped when caught.”

It also said he had brought the profession “into disrepute” since pharmacists are entrusted with maintaining the safe custody and distribution of drugs and poisons to the public.

They concluded that Dr Lee’s registration should be cancelled as deterrence and protection of the profession’s reputation.

While the tribunal members took into account that Dr Lee had suffered from guilt and stress due to domestic violence issues in the home, an independent assessment described him as being at high risk of relapsing for up to two years.

He is not permitted to reapply for registration as a pharmacist for three years, during which time the tribunal hopes that he completes an extended period of treatment and overcomes his issues with addiction.

“We are not satisfied that the remorse Dr Lee has expressed is grounded in realistic insight into his situation nor that at this stage we can confidently say he has reasonable prospects of achieving return to being a fit and proper person to practice as a pharmacist,” said the tribunal.

“That said, we hope Dr Lee does achieve rehabilitation and at some point becomes fit for reregistration… The purpose of determinations is to protect the public not to punish Dr Lee.”

Dr Lee still holds registration as a medical practitioner, although he is currently not allowed to practise.

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