Recently a Hearing Tribunal issued its written decisions on the merits and sanctions regarding the conduct of a pharmacist who, at the time of the conduct, was a pharmacy student and then a provisional pharmacist. He was found to have forged prescriptions for himself in order to fraudulently obtain Schedule 1 drugs, including amphetamines and zopiclone, for his personal use. Based on the evidence gathered in the investigation, including the admissions of the pharmacist, the Hearing Tribunal found that during a 105-day period, the pharmacist forged prescriptions on 10 occasions under the signatures of four different physicians, which he presented to four different pharmacies to fraudulently obtain drugs, including amphetamines. 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 following significant penalties even though this was a first offence for the pharmacist, and it was made aware of his personal circumstances that contributed to his decisions:
- a 30-month suspension;
- an order that upon completion of the suspension, his practice permit shall not be reinstated until the pharmacist satisfactorily completes all the requirements of ACP’s registration department and satisfactorily completes the Center of Personalized Education for Professional’s PROBE course within six months of reinstatement;
- upon reinstatement he is subject to
- direct supervision for a minimum of 12 months;
- providing ACP’s complaints director with verification that he has advised the licensee and proprietor of any pharmacy in which he is employed of the Hearing Tribunal’s written decisions in this matter for five years; and
- not being permitted to be an owner or proprietor of a pharmacy during the period of his suspension and not being permitted to be a licensee, owner, or proprietor of a pharmacy for a period of five years following his reinstatement;
- an order to provide ACP with evidence of the disposition of his related criminal charges within 30 days of their disposition or 30 days within the date of receipt of the Hearing Tribunal’s written decision on sanction, whichever is later;
- $5,000 in fines; and
- costs of the investigation and hearing (estimated to be $32,000).
Rationale for the Tribunal’s decision, is reflected in its following statements from the Tribunal’s February 10, 2020, decision on merit and June 15, 2020, decision on penalty:
Although the Hearing Tribunal is sympathetic to [the pharmacist’s] various sets of personal circumstances, it does not diminish from the fact that the forging offences occurred by [the pharmacist] and that forging prescriptions constitutes unprofessional conduct.
The Hearing Tribunal agrees with the Complaints Director that the forging of prescription drugs (and using such drugs not under the authority or authorization of a physician) is not in the best interests of patients.
The Hearing Tribunal is deeply concerned that [the pharmacist] is missing the point of the concerns laid out by the Complaints Director in regards to the potential for patient harm, and the fact that [the pharmacist] does not feel that he could put patients in harm’s way by misusing amphetamines is, quite frankly, alarming.
The Tribunal finds that to have a regulated member of the College forging prescriptions for drugs, including amphetamines, strikes at the very heart of what the practice of pharmacy is about and speaks against the clear vision of the College which is “Healthy Albertans through excellence in pharmacy practice.”
Because of [the pharmacist’s] lack of ownership of the seriousness of the conduct he does require significant sanctions to deter him specifically.
A regulated member forging prescriptions to obtain amphetamines fraudulently is an assault on the very reason pharmacy exists in the health care system and requires a strong message sent by the College to the membership about this type of misconduct.
Pharmacy professionals – 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 forging prescriptions and fraudulently obtaining drugs for personal use 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 practise.