A pharmacist’s decision to reach out for help for his mental health issues was a mitigating factor at his hearing for misappropriating medicines
The Pharmacy Board has made a statement about a South Australian pharmacist who has had his registration suspended for a month and conditions imposed upon it, after he misappropriated medicines for his own use.
In November or December 2016, the pharmacist misappropriated two partially full packets of oxycodone 5mg tablets—about 20 to 30 tablets in total—from his workplace for his personal use, says the Board.
The packets had been returned to the pharmacy by customers.
Over the next six weeks, the pharmacist self-administered the medication, once or twice a week, taking two or three tablets at a time.
In an affidavit he explained that he was having depressive thoughts at the time, and using the tablets was an attempt to alleviate them.
In June 2019, the pharmacist also misappropriated four packets of medication for his personal use.
These included a full, or nearly full pack of diazepam, and three partially full packs of medication containing oxycodone (Endone 5mg, OxyNorm 20mg and Targin 20mg).
Again, these were either returned stock or expired stock.
The pharmacist self-administered the medication without clinical oversight from June to August 2019, taking tablets once or twice, occasionally three times, a week: two to four diazepam tablets at a time, or two to three oxycodone tablets at a time.
Again, he said this was due to “depressive thoughts” and the fact that he was “not in a good place mentally” and thought the tablets would help.
He also said he took the tablets at a time when he could be sure he would not be affected by the medication while at work as a pharmacist, and it was not suggested he worked while affected or impaired, nor that he supplied the medicines to other people.
He said he “eventually realised, with encouragement from friends, that he needed to get help for his mental health,” the Tribunal noted.
In August 2019, he consulted a GP about his mental health and disclosed the conduct in general terms. The doctor encouraged him to self-report.
He notified AHPRA about his own conduct a few days later, followed by a mandatory notification by his doctor in September.
Following a show cause process in October 2019, the Pharmacy Board took immediate action and imposed conditions on the pharmacist’s registration while it considered the notification.
These conditions required him to engage in treatment with a general practitioner, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist and to undergo random urine and hair testing.
The Tribunal noted that the pharmacist had continued to consult a GP and was cooperating willingly with mental health treatment. Since the conduct he self-reported, he had not misappropriated or self-administered any such medicines, which was consistent was the results of all drug testing.
In March 2021, all conditions were removed from his registration.
The Tribunal noted that he had expressed regret about the misconduct, and appreciated that it was “entirely unacceptable”.
While it agreed that he should be reprimanded, it also noted that there were circumstances which led it to “significantly” reduce the suspension period.
These included the fact that he had sought help and been candid with his GP, leading to the self-report to AHPRA, and the fact that he had continued to obtain treatment and was making a “good recovery”.
“There is a significant public interest, in our view, in encouraging persons in a similar position to [the pharmacist] to come forward and get medical assistance,” the Tribunal said.
“There is also a public interest in encouraging candour and self-reports.”
Also perceiving that the pharmacist had been “somewhat isolated in his professional practice, leaving him with limited professional support structures and resources for dealing with work and life-related issues,” it imposed a condition on his registration that he receive mentoring for two years.
The pharmacist was reprimanded and a one-month suspension period imposed.
Pharmacists can contact the Pharmacists Support Service on 1300 244 910 for peer support related to the demands of being a pharmacist in Australia.
Lifeline is available on 13 11 14.
Members can call PDL on 1300 854 838 for support from a Professional Officer.