A conviction under the Misuse of Drugs Act
Mr Samer Dabous was a locum pharmacist working at various pharmacies in Auckland. In May 2014 he was convicted of two representative charges under section 6 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1976 for having in his possession Class C controlled drugs for the purpose of sale and Class B controlled drugs for the purpose of supply.
Mr Dabous’ activities were uncovered after his landlords noticed a toxic smell coming from his flat and entered the property to investigate. The landlords found a range of prescription medicines, pill bottles, and cannabis related items and reported the matter to the Police who then executed a search warrant on the property. The Police found a range of prescription only medicines as well as cannabis and cannabis related items.
Mr Dabous admitted he was addicted to cannabis and said that he had stolen the medicines from the various pharmacies he worked at. Mr Dabous denied selling or supplying the medicines or cannabis to anyone else. A Telco warrant subsequently obtained for Mr Dabous’ cell phone revealed that he had been dealing the medicines and cannabis to several separate clients. Mr Dabous eventually pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 10 months home detention.
A Professional Conduct Committee was appointed by the Pharmacy Council of New Zealand to investigate Mr Dabous’ conduct. The PCC laid a charge before the Tribunal alleging that Mr Dabous’ convictions reflected adversely on his fitness to practise as a pharmacist. The PCC argued that Mr Dabous’ possession of controlled drugs for the purposes of sale and supply demonstrated a clear departure from the professional and ethical standards expected of pharmacists.
In the Tribunal, Mr Dabous accepted that his conduct was ‘inappropriate’ and that the convictions reflected adversely on his fitness to practise. Mr Dabous said he had faced difficult personal circumstances and because of this suffered from depression and drug use. However, he had made efforts to turn his life around by returning to Dunedin, completing addiction programmes, and contributing to his local football club.
The Tribunal found that the convictions ‘unquestionably’ reflected adversely on Mr Dabous’ fitness to practice.
On the issue of penalty, the PCC submitted that the cancellation of Mr Dabous’ registration as a pharmacist was necessary to maintain professional standards and protect the health and safety of members of the public. Mr Dabous suggested to the Tribunal that suspension was more appropriate.
The Tribunal concluded that because of the seriousness of the offences deregistration was necessary so that the Tribunal fulfilled its responsibilities to the public and profession. The Tribunal emphasised a need to send a strong message to the public and profession that such conduct would not be tolerated.
This decision confirms that pharmacists (and all health practitioners) must always behave in a professional manner, including outside the workplace. The conduct of Mr Dabous was condemned by the Tribunal because it reflected adversely on the pharmacy profession and did not uphold the standards of behaviour the public expects from their pharmacists.
In recent years the Tribunal has at times expressed a reluctance to cancel the practising certificates of health practitioners, instead favouring longer periods of suspension with conditions. However, this decision emphasises the standards of the profession must be upheld to ensure that practitioners are fit and competent to practise. If necessary, the Tribunal will strike off practitioners to maintain these standards.
This article was authored by Helen Brown, Special Counsel in our Wellington office.