Seek help if you are not fit to practice

November 30, 2016

Lessons Learned

A recent hearing tribunal issued its written decision on the merit and orders regarding the conduct of a pharmacist who was found to have diverted large quantities of drugs including: zopiclone, zolpidem, nitrazepam, and dextroamphetamine. The tribunal found the quantities of drugs the pharmacist diverted were so large as to preclude these were solely for his personal use.

The tribunal also determined that the pharmacist abused his position of trust by creating false patient records to facilitate and conceal his diversions, while at the same time actively circumventing a drug monitoring and support program he had been ordered to submit to by a previous hearing tribunal. In doing so, the hearing tribunal ruled that the pharmacist breached the most fundamental elements of trust, integrity, and professionalism.
 
In this matter, the tribunal imposed the most significant penalties permitted under the Health Professions Act… cancellation, fines totaling $40,000, and costs of the investigation and hearing. Furthermore, the tribunal instructed the hearings director to submit their decision to the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General of Alberta.
 
Rationale for the tribunal’s decision is reflected in its following statements from the tribunal’s decision on merit:
[The pharmacist] not only diverted controlled medications, he abused his position of authority by altering records to conceal this activity. These actions surely diminish the standing of the profession in the eyes of the public. Furthermore, [the pharmacist’s] actions represent a direct and willful contravention of an order given to him and conditions placed on his practice by the profession.
 
The public bases their trust in the pharmacy profession on the assumption that it will regulate itself in the best interest of patients and the safety of the public. [The pharmacist’s] failure to comply with orders stemming from the profession’s self-regulation calls that assumption into question, thereby threatening the public’s trust in the profession.
 
[The pharmacist’s] actions clearly demonstrate a profound lack of judgment, particularly in light of them occurring while under an order of a previous hearing tribunal and in a matter similar to that which led to the initial hearing. Instead of asking for help when he relapsed, he went to great lengths to avoid help and to conceal his relapse from those who could provide it.
 
From the tribunal’s decision on orders:
Diversion of controlled substances is in itself a serious offence, as is the creation of fictitious records to conceal that diversion. It is an abuse of the trust placed in pharmacists by the profession and by the public to safely manage the distribution of medications and to uphold the laws and regulations that govern that distribution. This [conduct] not only breaches multiple standards of professional conduct but potentially puts members of the public at risk.
 
Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians - review your ethical duties to your patients, our profession and yourself
• Review your professional responsibilities and ethical duties. Principles 1, 10, and 11 of the Code of Ethics will provide you with valuable guidance in this respect.
• Understand that the diversion of drugs cannot and will not be tolerated by the profession. Your decision to participate in these activities may result in the most serious sanctions available to be imposed.
• Do not allow your personal circumstances to negatively affect your professional obligations.
• Seek help at the earliest opportunity. Many employers offer an employee assistance program and there are many other assessment and support services offered through Alberta Health Services and for members of the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association.
• Take yourself out of practice when you are not fit to practice.

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