Three vials of morphine tartrate a day

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A former pharmacist obtained and consumed a “staggering” amount of morphine from the store he was managing, a Tribunal has heard

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard that the pharmacist was able to hide what must have been a “very serious” addiction while working at the store and dishonestly obtaining a range of controlled and restricted drugs including hydromorphone and pethidine.

The pharmacist had once been an “exceptional” student, winning several academic awards – and by 2009, had secured a job as a managing pharmacist at a store in south-east Queensland.

Between 6 January 2012 and 7 February 2013, he dishonestly obtained quantities of controlled drugs from the pharmacy without valid endorsement, for the purpose of taking them himself, the Tribunal heard.

Morphine made up the largest part of this quantity of drugs, but other medicines stolen included Dilaudid, Pethidine, Physeptone and Oxycodone, OxyNorm and MS Contin.

The pharmacist obtained these by ordering them from a wholesaler, or another pharmacy, on behalf of his own store and then taking them home to self-administer.

The Queensland Health Ombudsman described the amount of dishonestly obtained morphine as “staggering”.

The Tribunal noted that the pharmacist, in his interview with police in March 2013, had repeatedly said that the drugs were taken from the pharmacy for his own personal use.

“The quantity of morphine alone was 1750 vials of varying strengths,” it said. “Included in that number were 1160 vials of Morphine Tartrate 120mg 1.5ml.

“On the respondent’s account, he must have been using approximately three vials a day of morphine tartrate.”

The Tribunal noted that it had no basis to suggest that the pharmacist was not consuming the morphine himself, and that it was “unusual, to say the least, that he was able to hide what must have been a very serious addiction, and carry out his duties throughout this period”.

On 51 occasions during this period, the pharmacist failed to record these controlled drugs in the pharmacy’s Controlled Drugs Book.

On 27 February 2013, police executed a search warrant at the pharmacist’s home and found “a quantity of controlled and restricted drugs” including 31 empty Dilaudid ampules, but no valid script or clinical indication for them.

Another allegation was that the pharmacist had allowed his girlfriend (an unauthorised person) to enter details of controlled drugs he had dishonestly obtained in the Book – 31 times.

He also failed to record controlled drugs he dispensed to actual clients of the pharmacy, on 82 occasions.

The Pharmacy Board had imposed conditions on the pharmacist’s registration, including that he not practise until he received its approval, and not be present at any pharmacy unless another pharmacist was there at the same time.

“There were also conditions imposed relating to his fitness to practice because of what was a very significant opioid dependence,” the Tribunal noted.

The pharmacist breached various conditions between the time these were imposed and the time of the hearing, including failing to attend drug screening.

On one occasion in February 2014, amphetamine, methylamphetamine and MDMA showed up in his urine sample.

“His responses to the Board could be described as self-serving and unconvincing,” said the Tribunal.

In 2015, the Board’s health panel found that the pharmacist had a health impairment and added further conditions to his registration, around negative drug screening and evidence of ongoing psychological or psychiatric treatment.

In December 2015, he submitted a request to return to work, and got a job as a pharmacy assistant in a northern NSW pharmacy. This job ended in May 2016.

He has been unemployed since. In July 2016, he was charged with trespass after refusing to leave a friend’s yard while he was intoxicated, a charge on which he was later convicted and fined $350.

On the same day, he was admitted to a hospital on an involuntary treatment order and diagnosed with bipolar disorder (manic) with narcissistic traits.

“He showed little insight; was uncooperative with staff in refusing diagnosis and treatment and in supplying samples for drug analysis. He eventually agreed to the administration of sodium valproate and his mood stabilized and he was discharged into the care of his mother and GP,” the Tribunal noted.

The Tribunal declared that viewed as a whole, this conduct – particularly obtaining and consuming the drugs including morphine – was “substantially below the standard reasonably expected of a pharmacist who was the managing pharmacist of the pharmacy in which he was employed”.

It noted that despite the “staggering” amount of morphine he was taking, he was still “able to act in a calculating way by attempting to interfere with records to hide his misconduct”.

Noting that the sanctions it imposed were to be “protective and not punitive,” the Tribunal said that if the pharmacist was still registered, his conduct was so serious that cancellation of his registration would be warranted.

The pharmacist was reprimanded and prohibited from working as a pharmacy assistant, dispensary assistant, or dispensary technician until such time as he obtains registration as a pharmacist.

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