Pharmacist suspended for opioid abuse

A leading WA hospital pharmacist has been suspended after allegedly being caught stealing heavy-duty opioids

According to reports in The West Australian Corruption and Crime Commission investigators arrested Matthew Foster in February after a short surveillance operation sparked by a referral from the Health Department.

Mr Foster, 38, who no longer works at the hospital, is yet to plead to three counts each of stealing as a servant and possession of a prohibited drug — the narcotic pain-reliever hydromorphone. He has been bailed to appear again in Fremantle Magistrate’s Court next month.

He was suspended from practising after allegedly being caught stealing heavy-duty opioid drugs while working at Fiona Stanley Hospital and consuming them in his car.

The arrest could bring fresh scrutiny to the Health Department’s pharmaceutical safeguards, which include biometric security screening and were supposed to have been strengthened after critical findings by the Coroner in 2013, the Auditor-General in 2012 and CCC in 2011.

According to his online professional profile, Mr Foster was chairman of the WA branch of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia for four years from 2012.

At FSH, he held the role of senior pharmacist, which according to the SHPA, “leads the pharmacy service for their respective specialty area and is responsible for promoting safe, rational and cost-effective drug therapy”.

Mr Foster is restricted from practising until approved by the Pharmacy Board of Australia, according to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

Details of the covert sting surfaced yesterday during an appearance by CCC Commissioner John McKechnie before his agency’s parliamentary oversight committee.

It was raised by Mr McKechnie as the type of swift arrest and charge by CCC investigators that was no longer possible after the Supreme Court ruled in July that the agency did not have the power to launch prosecutions in the Magistrate’s Court.

“Another example, I won’t mention the name because it’s still before the court, held a senior position in Health who was alleged to be stealing drugs and was located by commission officers allegedly just after he had ingested in a car in a public place and was arrested and charged for a number of reasons, including his own safety,” he said.

Since the July ruling, the CCC can still arrest people, but they have to be charged within four hours.

“We are still in discussion with the police on whether they would be prepared to charge on our say-so,” Mr McKechnie said. “It is less than satisfactory.”

The Health Department declined to the West Australian.

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