Struck off: Pharmacist implicated in death of patient

A pharmacy owner who was convicted over selling excessive quantities of codeine, wrongful dispensing of zopiclone, as well as forgery, has been deregistered

Auckland pharmacist Park Ung Wong, also known as Terrence Wong, recently faced the New Zealand Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal after being convicted under the Crimes Act 1961 at the District Court at North Shore for several offences.

These included making a false document, supply of prescription only medicines in breach of the Medicines Act 1981 and criminal nuisance.

Mr Wong had been registered as a pharmacist since December 2010 and at all times owned and operated a pharmacy in Birkenhead, Auckland.

The first convictions concerned Mr Wong’s dispensing of zopiclone to a patient (Mr N) who had been identified as being dependent on the insomnia drug.

Despite a restriction notice on the patient issued to every prescriber and pharmacist by the Ministry of Health – a copy of which was located at Mr Wong’s pharmacy – and having been informed that Mr N’s prescription was fraudulent, Mr Wong had dispensed the drug several times to Mr N.

Mr Wong also supplied Mr N restricted medicines containing ibuprofen and codeine, such as Nurofen Plus, Panafen and Ibucode Plus.

On the majority of occasions these products were in packet sizes consisting of 30 tablets.

Mr Wong sold at least 176 packets of these medicines to Mr N on at least 114 occasions.

In January 2015, Mr N died from an overdose caused by mixed drug toxicity from both zopiclone and codeine.

After learning about the death, Mr Wong was found to have located the previous fraudulent prescription, modified the date and forged the prescriber’s signature: making a document that appeared to be a prescription for the patient for 30 zopiclone tablets.

“As a pharmacist you knew of the risk to the health of Mr N posed by supplying the medicines to him in such high doses and on a regular basis,” the tribunal told Mr Wong.

“Specifically, you knew or ought to have known that the risks posed by zopiclone and codeine are greater when they are taken together.”

Ms H was a customer of Mr Wong’s between May 2014 and June 2015, who developed a strong dependency on Nurofen Plus and purchased increasing amounts of the product on a regular basis from Mr Wong.

There was a regular pattern of purchase of multiple packets of Nurofen Plus on a “no questions asked” basis, authorities found.

A third customer, Ms D, also purchased multiple packets of Nurofen Plus on a “no questions asked” basis between September 2013 and July 2015.

Mr Wong was convicted in August 2016 for making a false document (forgery); criminal nuisance relating to: the sale of the prescription medicine zoplicone to a customer, the sale of excessive quantities of restricted medicines containing codeine and ibuprofen to three customers; and the sale of restricted medicines containing codeine to one patient, in breach of the Crimes Act 1961.

He was also convicted of one representative charge of supplying a prescription medicine (paracetamol + codeine) to several patients in breach of the Medicines Act 1981.

Mr Wong was sentenced to 10 months’ home detention and 200 hours community service.

During an April hearing this year, a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) brought the practitioner before the Tribunal.

Mr Wong admitted that his convictions reflected adversely on his fitness to practice as a pharmacist.

Counsel for the practitioner referred to the insight and remorse that Mr Wong has shown by his admission of the charge and the steps he has taken since the offending, including paying reparation to the deceased patient’s family of $30,000.

The Tribunal heard the significant financial impact of this reparation paid, along with the closure Mr Wong’s pharmacy after the criminal charges were laid.

However in a recent decision, it took the view that cancellation of his registration was “the only penalty that can appropriately meet the need to protect the public and maintain the high standards required for the pharmacist profession”.

“Mr Wong has failed to act in accordance with the high standards of professional conduct expected of the Pharmacist profession. It is significant that this dishonest conduct was in the course of his work as a pharmacist,” the Tribunal found.

“The offending involves a serious lack of judgment and caused serious harm to two patients and risked serious harm to others. This must inevitably reflect adversely on his fitness to practise as a pharmacist. “

Application for re-registration will not be considered for a period of two years “given the serious nature of the offending”.

The practitioner was also ordered to pay 35% of the total costs of the Tribunal and the PCC, being $3,850 payable to the Tribunal and $3,850 payable to the PCC.

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  1. pagophilus

    If it was in Australia he probably would have only been suspended for a few months.

    • chris

      And got a free biro and note pad from the manufacturers.

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