A pharmacist’s registration has been cancelled after he was caught with restricted substances including phentermine marked as “Rocket Caps” in his car
The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard that the pharmacist, who had an interest in five pharmacies in regional NSW, was stopped by police while driving in April 2016.
“Police seized a number of restricted substances from the vehicle, including testosterone, human growth hormone and phentermine,” the Tribunal noted.
“The phentermine was in non-commercial packaging and marked only as ‘Rocket Caps’.
“Accompanying the substances was a handwritten piece of paper titled ‘Order 4’ which comprised a list of the substances, quantities, and corresponding figures which were later conceded to be prices.”
The pharmacist told the police that he was conveying the items between his pharmacies, but had no documentation to support this, and he later admitted that he was bringing them to a friend and business associate who was also a patient at one of the pharmacies. The Tribunal referred to this person only as Person A.
The pharmacist would later maintain that providing these drugs to Person A without authorisation was “actually fine” because the quantity was small, it was for a short time, and Person A had previously had a script for these medicines.
He repeatedly referred to Person A as “the bodybuilder”.
At the July 2020 hearing, the Tribunal rejected the pharmacist’s claim that he had held a genuine professional opinion that Person A had a clinical need for the medications that he repeatedly supplied.
In June that year, police went to this pharmacy to search it, finding a quantity of testosterone in the pharmacist’s car.
The pharmacist claimed he was transferring stock to another suburb – but again had no documentation, and did not have a financial interest in any pharmacy at that suburb.
Police also went to the pharmacist’s home and found medicines including S4 and S4D restricted substances.
These included three different commercial formulations of ADHD drug methylphenidate hydrochloride, two of which were labelled in the name of Persons B and C, both previous patients of the pharmacy in question. The third was not labelled.
“The practitioner admitted that he self-administered this substance as a stimulant to assist him with work and study, and that he did not have a prescription for this medication for any clinical purpose,” the Tribunal noted.
When asked by the HCCC about how this medicine happened to be in his possession, he said that the had taken it from a disposal area at the pharmacy after patients had returned it as unwanted medicine.
A parent of Person C told police, however, that they had never returned medicine back to the pharmacy.
In June 2016 the pharmacist was charged with several criminal offences and the Pharmacy Council convened s150 proceedings, imposing conditions on his registration including that he not practise as a pharmacist, and not enter any pharmacies in which he had a financial interest.
In April 2018 he pleaded guilty to two charges of supply a prohibited drug and one charge of fail to comply with licence, and was given a good behaviour bond and fined $1,300.
The next month, the Council suspended his registration, and it remained suspended at the time of the July 2020 hearing.
In August 2018 the pharmacist successfully appealed his sentence and the District Court substituted three concurrent good behaviour bonds with no criminal conviction recorded.
The Health Care Complaints Commission said that the pharmacist had engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct due to possession of the “Rocket Caps” without prescription or authority and having compounded them in contravention of the relevant guidelines; having the testosterone in his car without reasonable excuse and having the methylphenidate hydrochloride in his home without prescription; and failing to notify AHPRA about the charges, the convictions and the successful appeal and change to his criminal history.
It said that together, all this amounted to professional misconduct.
However during the course of the hearing, the HCCC sought to withdraw all of the material from the NSW Police Brief of Evidence, which itself comprised almost all of its evidentiary material, because it had been advised that evidence obtained under a search warrant in criminal proceedings could not be used in civil proceedings.
However the Tribunal noted that some of the evidence was not obtained under a search warrant – such as witness statements and the pharmacy dispensing records – and the solicitor for the HCCC then attempted to leave them in evidence, only to make another formal application to withdraw them.
“With respect to the HCCC, it really was not their finest hour,” the Tribunal noted.
With the evidence obtained under the search warrant left out, and witness statements and the pharmacy dispensing records left in, the Tribunal then considered the range of possible orders.
It said that it was “far from convinced that the practitioner had a thorough insight into the offending conduct, or that he had a sufficient adherence to professional standards to enable him to practise safely”.
“In both written and oral submissions, the practitioner downplayed and minimised his conduct by reference to the small quantities of drugs involved. While the quantities of drug involved may be relevant to criminal questions of supply, the professional breaches involved in the improper and unethical conduct were serious and the conduct occurred on more than one occasion.”
The Tribunal noted that the pharmacist had been “at best reckless and cavalier” in his attitude to his duties as a pharmacist to put the health and safety of their patients first, by ensuring that the provision of restricted, and other, medications is appropriately targeted to patients’ clinical needs.
“Because of both the direct risk to patients and the indirect risk to the public through damage to their trust in the profession of pharmacy, we find that the practitioner is unfit in the public interest to practise.”
The pharmacist’s registration was cancelled and he may not apply for a review for a year.
He was reprimanded, and ordered to pay 40% of costs, reduced because of the HCCC’s conduct, which extended the length of the hearing.