A Victorian pharmacist charged with misappropriating thousands of S8 tablets to feed his dependency, driven by chronic pain, has been reprimanded and suspended for 12 months
First registered in 1988, the pharmacist in question began self-medicating in 2011 due to a chronic pain condition.
The pharmacist, who had run his own pharmacy business between 2000 and 2007 with his wife, had a long-standing varicose vein medical condition that was ‘chronic’ and ‘extremely painful’, requiring multiple surgeries over many years.
It was in this context that he started self-medicating from common analgesics progressing to oxycodone.
During 2013 and 2014, the pharmacist was self-administering between 80mg and 200mg of oxycodone a day.
Things went from ‘bad to worse’ when he ultimately faced Melbourne Magistrates’ Court in December 2015 charged with serious criminal offences relating to self-supply and self-administration of prescription painkillers accessed by him during the course of his work as a pharmacist.
He was charged with and pleaded guilty to 15 rolled up charges, including the misappropriation of 839 Endone 5mg tablets, 515 Oxycontin 80mg tablets, 656 Oxycontin 40mg tablets, 84 Oxycontin 5mg tablets, 66 Oxynorm 10mg capsules, and 40 Physeptone 10mg tablets between 12 September 2011 and 20 September 2014, from four different pharmacies at which he was employed.
Altogether this added up to more than 2000 pills.
The pharmacist also pleaded guilty to four rolled up charges of supplying a Schedule 8 poison without authorisation (representing 55 breaches), four rolled up charges of knowingly making a false or misleading entry involving a Schedule 8 poison (representing 60 breaches), two rolled up charges of failing to keep records of transactions involving Schedule 8 poisons, four rolled up charges related to self-administering Schedule 8 poisons without a prescription, and one rolled up charge of possessing a drug of dependence without authorisation (representing 50 instances of possession).
On 9 December 2015, the pharmacist pleaded guilty to all charges and, without being convicted, was placed on a good behaviour bond.
The magistrate accepted that the pharmacist’s self-administration of drugs was not for gratuitous reasons but for purposes of controlling personal pain, and that he did not engage in conduct that specifically put members of the public at risk.
The pharmacist has not been practising as a pharmacist since 30 July 2015 after being restricted by the Pharmacy Board of Australia and, since April 2016, he has been working as a science teacher at a public secondary school.
He has also been attending ongoing psychological counselling and received some treatment with an addiction medicine specialist.
On 30 January 2018, the Pharmacy Board referred the pharmacist to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal seeking a finding of professional misconduct – to which the pharmacist agreed.
In a November 2018 hearing before the tribunal, the pharmacist gave “compelling evidence”, acknowledging his conduct and expressing “shame and regret”.
“We accept that he is now genuinely remorseful,” found the tribunal.
“He is horrified to reflect that during this period he kept medications returned to the pharmacy by patients. He accepts he had been in denial as to his addiction. He admitted his decision-making during this period was extremely poor.”
However they pointed out that even after the court proceedings, the pharmacist fell back into a cycle of drug abuse in 2016, which led to his photocopying prescriptions to obtain tramadol.
The tribunal also agreed with the magistrate’s closing remarks that the pharmacist held a position of responsibility in the community, and neglected that responsibility by supplying Schedule 8 poisons in contravention of the law.
They accepted that in the past few years he has made significant attempts to address his drug dependency and other issues.
“Our determinations should not be crushing. We accept that [the pharmacist] has now developed a strong degree of insight which was previously lacking … Our determinations should also not be seen in any way to minimise the serious nature of the conduct,” found the tribunal.
It ordered that the pharmacist be reprimanded and suspended for a period of 12 months from 29 November 2018.
Upon returning to practice, he will be required to undertake regular urine and hair drug screening; undertake treatment with treating practitioners; and undertake a program of education related to pharmacy practice and the law.
Pharmacists concerned about their own or a colleagues potential substance misuse can call the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910 (available every day of the year between 8am and 11pm AEDST) for non-judgemental support.