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Don’t let personal circumstances develop into unprofessional conduct

December 13, 2023
Lessons learned: diversion of drugs is not tolerated.

Recently a Hearing Tribunal issued its written decisions on the merits and sanctions regarding the conduct of a pharmacy technician who was found to have diverted cocaine from the pharmacy where he practised. The Tribunal found the pharmacy technician abused his position of trust by manipulating the inventory records at his pharmacy to conceal and facilitate his theft. The Hearing Tribunal found that the pharmacy technician breached the most fundamental elements of trust, integrity, and professionalism.

The requirement to act honestly and ethically is a fundamental part of the covenant of being a regulated health professional. This is especially true when dealing with narcotics.

In this matter, the Tribunal imposed significant penalties, even though the medications were diverted solely for the pharmacy technician’s personal use, there were no allegations of patient harm, there had been no previous complaints regarding the pharmacy technician’s conduct, the number of times he diverted the drug was limited to four occasions, and the pharmacy technician admitted to his unprofessional conduct to both his employer and the Alberta College of Pharmacy (ACP). The Tribunal ordered

  • the pharmacy technician’s registration, including his ability to apply for a practice permit, to be suspended for 18 months from the date of its written decision on sanctions;
  • after the completion of the suspension, his registration to not be reinstated until he provides the complaints director with a recent report from a qualified physician that he is fit to return to practice;
  • an order that any practice permit issued to him be subject to the following conditions:
    • he shall practise under direct supervision for a minimum of six months following his return to practice; and
    • for a period of five years, he must provide a copy of the Tribunal’s decisions to any employer who offers him employment as a pharmacy technician or in a pharmacy or healthcare setting where the restricted activities of regulated members of ACP (including the sale of scheduled drugs) can occur;
  • an order that he is prohibited from being a pharmacy owner or proprietor until five years after his reinstatement onto the pharmacy technician register with ACP; and
  • 50 per cent of the costs of the investigation and hearing, to a maximum of $10,000.

The pharmacy technician’s employment at the pharmacy where the diversions occurred was terminated prior to the start of ACP’s investigation and he has not practised since that date. He did not apply to renew his annual practice permit for 2023.

Rationale for the Tribunal’s decision, is reflected in its following statements from the decision on sanction:

The legal and regulatory requirements applicable to narcotics are intended to protect the public’s health and safety from potentially dangerous drugs. [The pharmacy technician]ignored these requirements and removed cocaine powder for his personal use while trying to cover up this diversion. Such conduct is a marked departure from the expectations of regulated members of the College. It is a very serious matter and warrants a serious sanction. The seriousness of the matter is increased by the fact that [The pharmacy technician] continued to provide professional services in close proximity to the timing of his misuse of the controlled substance, thereby putting members of the public at risk of harm. 

Pharmacy technicians and pharmacists – review your ethical duties to your profession and yourself

  1. Understand that the diversion of drugs, for any reason, cannot and will not be tolerated by the college. Your decision to participate in these activities may result in serious sanctions.
  2. Do not allow your personal circumstances to negatively affect your professional obligations.
  3. 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.
  4. Take yourself out of practice when you are not fit to practise.
  5. Review and reflect upon your conduct as it relates to the Code of Ethics and your profession.  Principles 1, 10, and 11 of the Code of Ethics will provide you with valuable guidance in this respect.