11 Nov 2021
A tribunal has found a pharmacist engaged in professional misconduct for inappropriate dispensing of anabolic steroids.
On 16 May 2017, the Pharmacy Board of Australia (the Board) commenced disciplinary proceedings against Felecia Hamilton, a registered pharmacist. The Board alleged Ms Hamilton had engaged in the practice of dispensing anabolic androgenic steroids to 49 patients over 586 dispensing incidents while she was sole practitioner at Hamilton’s Health Performance Pharmacy in Canning Vale, Western Australia.
The Western Australian State Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) first heard the matter on 8-10 July 2019 and, further to Ms Hamilton’s admissions, found Ms Hamilton had engaged in professional misconduct by dispensing of anabolic androgenic steroids to patients in the period 1 January 2008 to 30 April 2009, which did not accord with recognised therapeutic standards, was an unacceptable hazard to the health of patients, and had the potential for misuse, abuse and/or dependency.
Ms Hamilton’s professional misconduct exposed her patients and others to whom the drugs may have been on-sold to potential serious side effects, which include high blood pressure, liver damage and cardiovascular disease.
On 28-29 January 2021, the tribunal heard the matter to determine penalty. The tribunal did not accept that Ms Hamilton was naïve or overly trusting of her patients, rather that she deliberately ignored the potential for misuse and abuse of the drugs by her patients and others to whom they could be on-sold when presented with hundreds of prescriptions for anabolic steroids by 49 patients over a substantial period of time.
Furthermore, and significantly, Ms Hamilton had engaged in the professional misconduct for financial gain, in circumstances where she ‘really struggled to just keep the doors open’, having commenced the pharmacy without an existing pharmacy base and PBS accreditation and at the time of the global financial crisis.
‘The practitioner’s professional misconduct in this case is very serious and entirely unacceptable and inconsistent with the competent and ethical practice of pharmacy,’ the tribunal found.
The tribunal ordered that Ms Hamilton be reprimanded, suspended for a period of two years and six months, and pay the Board’s costs in the sum of $95,649.70.
While the tribunal acknowledged the lengthy disciplinary hearing had been stressful and expensive for Ms Hamilton, it noted she had denied she had committed professional misconduct for almost four years, and her admission only came on the fourth day of a contested conduct hearing. The tribunal also considered Ms Hamilton’s insight and remorse was grudging, rather than heartfelt and motivated, to some extent at least, by financial considerations. She had failed to be the last line in defence against misuse or abuse of medications and did not exercise her independent professional judgement. She had also been untruthful in evidence in her witness statements.
‘In these circumstances, we accept the Board’s submission that “protection of the public can only be achieved if, in matters such as this, the penalty imposed is adequate to achieve general deterrence".’
While the tribunal recognised the ‘devastating financial and emotional impact’ of a significant period of suspension of her registration, any lesser period of suspension would have been inadequate to provide specific and general deterrence and protect the public who require the services of pharmacists.
The suspension is to take effect from 19 December 2021 to allow Ms Hamilton time to close her business, communicate with other pharmacists and the Health Department regarding ongoing Schedule 8 prescriptions and terminate employment of staff in an orderly way.
The tribunal’s decision was published on the AustLII website on 20 October 2021.