13 Jul 2022
A Victorian psychiatrist has been reprimanded, suspended from practice for three months and fined $15,000 for inappropriately self-prescribing restricted medicines.
In its decision on 16 June 2022, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (tribunal) found that Dr Yogananda Ballekere had engaged in professional misconduct.
The tribunal found Dr Ballekere prescribed 13 different Schedule 4 medicines on 38 occasions between January 2017 and August 2018 in the name of a third party, for the purpose of self-administration. On two further occasions, in December 2014 and October 2016, Dr Ballekere prescribed two Schedule 4 medicines in his own name, for self-administration.
A number of the drugs, which Dr Ballekere used to help him sleep and manage his anxiety and depression, are psychotropic medications and one, Clonazepam, is classed as a drug of dependence under the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 (Vic) (DPCS Act). Under the DPCS Act, self-administration of Schedule 4 medicines is prohibited unless authorised to do so, and Dr Ballekere was not authorised.
The tribunal found Dr Ballekere had also breached Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia, by failing to attend to self-care and appropriate management of his own health and by not conforming with self-prescribing regulations in the code.
Dr Ballekere admitted the conduct and said that he did not know self-prescribing was not permitted in Australia (having qualified for his medical degree abroad). He said he used the name of a third party for the prescriptions to prevent embarrassment if other doctors and pharmacists were to become aware of the depression and anxiety he was suffering.
While acknowledging the stressful circumstances that Dr Ballekere was facing, the tribunal found that it did not excuse or sufficiently explain his conduct.
The tribunal accepted the Medical Board of Australia’s submission that there was a need to send a strong message to the profession that self-prescribing controlled substances – particularly in the name of another person – will not be tolerated and will result in a significant sanction being imposed. It found that a period of the suspension was required to reflect the gravity of the conduct and for general deterrence.
The tribunal anticipated that the publication of its findings and record of the reprimand under Dr Ballekere’s name on the register of practitioners would serve to reinforce the penalty.
In addition to the reprimand, three-month suspension and $15,000 fine, the tribunal ordered Dr Ballekere to comply with treatment conditions and to provide a reflective practice report on the education he undertook to address his conduct.
Read the tribunal’s full decision on the Austlii website.