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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  1. Toorisugarino Isha

    A pharmacist gains prescribing rights and this is what happens…

    • danguidone

      Are you suggesting that pharmacists are, deep down, all drug abusers who are only able to avoid accessing drugs of dependence by not being able to prescribe?

    • Expat In Blighty

      “GPhC (UK registration body) figures from October 2016 identify that there were 3,253 pharmacist
      independent prescribers, 884 supplementary prescribers, and another 639
      people with both PIP and SP registration”.
      I think it is more the individual than simply a pharmacist gaining prescribing rights.

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      This response is repugnant

    • Brettthereluctantpharmacist

      I’m going to assume that the ‘…’ at the end of your post, is an indication of you running out of time to complete your writing. I am giving you this benefit of the doubt because as it stands, the inference is quite offensive and also makes little sense without any accompanying explanation.

    • Toorisugarino Isha

      It appears my sarcastic jibe has caused some outrage. I understand that, I do. Some of my best friends are pharmacists who are now doctors and they are great people. Fantastic people. Some of the best. They went through an extreme vetting process called medical school as did this promising young gentleman. Clearly it is not enough. I would not go as far to call him a bad hombre, more a victim of unfortunate circumstances. Even so, it would not be unreasonasble for a temporary ban on pharmacist prescribing until the representatives of our profession can figure out what is going on.

      • Notachemist

        Pharmacist prescribing is irrelevant in this scenario. Pharmacists do not need to prescribe to access these medications, they handle them everyday. The vast majority of doctors and pharmacists do not succumb to substance misuse. Unfortunately this doctor/pharmacist did not access the help he needed. It is very difficult for registered health professionals to admit they need help and to seek the help they need with the biggest barrier being fear of loss of registration. We should all be reflecting on this situation and looking at out own strategies to manage our well-being.

      • Jarrod McMaugh

        The issue with your response is that you are completely insensitive to the health of the person in question, and reduce their serious circumstances to a political point.

        This person needs help, not to have the mess they have made their life into be used for scoring points.

  2. chris

    Certainly saves the Government and the taxpayer money when you can write a script yourself. Bring it on !

  3. Notachemist

    It is interesting that the Pharmacy Board appears to have taken a much stronger stance than the Medical Board. He was a medical student and a doctor when these offences occurred, although still registered as a pharmacist. This is a very sad situation as there is an excellent service in the Victorian Doctor’s Health Program available to medical students and doctors who have health related issues including substance abuse. He seems to have experienced significant personal stressors and also put himself under a lot of personal pressure to achieve his goal of becoming a doctor.

  4. Ronky

    Surely we are not so desperate for doctors that we can afford to allow someone with a known history of very serious drug abuse to get a medical degree and be registered as a doctor. He should have been expelled from the university and permanently barred from entering any health profession.
    The argument usually given is that there has been a lot of taxpayers’ money invested in his education. However this is far outweighed by the costs to society of the criminal activities of a health professional who is prone to addiction, over a period of potentially decades.

    • Wilson Tan

      The purpose of cancelling his registration is because it brings the profession into disrepute and as a deterrence and to protect the public. It is not to punish a person who has fallen, I believe in a society that allow second chances to reform where possible.

  5. (Mary) Kay Dunkley

    Australian pharmacists, pharmacy interns and students who may be struggling with stress and pressures that lead to substance misuse are encouraged to reach out to the Pharmacists’ Support Service for assistance. The service is available every day of the year on 1300244910 between 8am and 11pm EST. We will listen and support you to find the assistance and treatment you need. For more information

  6. Robert Broadbent

    I suppose the flip side of the Toorisugarino Isha comment is what do we do about doctors who have dispensing rights?

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