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Diversion of drugs is not tolerated

September 18, 2019
Lessons Learned: A Hearing Tribunal has ordered the cancellation of a pharmacist’s practice permit.

A Hearing Tribunal has issued its decisions on merit and decisions on sanction regarding the conduct of a pharmacist who was found to have diverted large quantities of narcotic pills, including oxycodone and morphine, and practised while incapacitated. Based on the evidence gathered in the investigation, including the admissions of the pharmacist, the Hearing Tribunal found the pharmacist diverted approximately 34,000 narcotic pills over three and a half years for her personal use. The Hearing Tribunal also concluded that some of the narcotic pills were diverted beyond the pharmacist’s personal use. The Tribunal found the pharmacist abused her position of trust by creating false patient profiles and records to facilitate and conceal her diversions. In doing so, the Hearing Tribunal found that the pharmacist breached the most fundamental elements of trust, integrity, and professionalism.

In this matter the Tribunal imposed the most significant penalty permitted under the Health Professions Act: cancellation. It also imposed the following:

  • $40,000 in fines;
  • costs of the investigation and hearing (estimated to be $37,000);
  • a five-year prohibition on the pharmacist serving as a pharmacy owner, proprietor, or licensee; and
  • a direction to have a copy of its decision sent to all licensed pharmacies on a named basis.

The pharmacist was also found guilty of several related criminal offences by the Court, resulting in conditional sentences of 24 and 18 months and a $3,000 fine.

Rationale for the Tribunal’s decision is reflected in its following statements:

From the Tribunal’s February 28, 2019, decision on merit and August 12, 2019, decision on penalty:

Pharmacy professionals have a duty and responsibility to ensure the safe storage, appropriate use, and monitoring of all medications, in particular, narcotic and controlled drugs. [The pharmacist] undermined the integrity of the profession by failing to ensure these responsibilities were met and by intentionally diverting substantial amounts of narcotic and controlled drugs. 

Trust, honesty, and integrity are critical attributes of pharmacists. Albertans require this of the pharmacy profession in order to receive appropriate care. The profession of pharmacy requires this of pharmacists to ensure that practice is conducted in a manner that is safe and effective for all those who utilize pharmacy services.  [The pharmacist’s] behaviour has breached these important attributes and she has shown that she does not subscribe to the level of professionalism required of a pharmacist.

[The pharmacist’s] proven actions, the complete disregard for the legislative requirements of the practice of pharmacy, and the potential harm from the misuse of narcotic and controlled drugs to the general public, makes these proven allegations extremely significant.

Cancellation and significant fines will serve as a deterrent to others from similar unprofessional conduct. 

Pharmacy professionals – review your ethical duties to your patients, our professions, and yourself:

  1. 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.
  2. Understand that the diversion of drugs 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. Further, the profession does not tolerate the diversion of drugs for personal use, as this is a risk to the registrant and potentially the individuals they serve.
  3. Do not allow your personal circumstances to negatively affect your professional obligations.
  4. 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 practise.