27 Oct 2017
A registered pharmacist has been reprimanded, and may be required to undergo psychiatric assessment and supervised practice should he seek re-registration, after findings of professional misconduct.
The Pharmacy Board of Australia (the Board) referred Mr Okan Balci to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) in December 2016 after they received a mandatory notification about the pharmacist’s behaviour from his employer in mid-2014.
Mr Balci completed a Bachelor of Pharmacy in 2011. While he was studying he was employed part-time at a pharmacy, where he was ultimately offered an internship. Mr Balci was registered for the first time in 2013 and continued to work for the same pharmacy.
In 2013 Mr Balci began misappropriating Schedule 4 and 8 drugs. The highest misappropriation was for oxycodone (an opioid prescribed for management of severe pain) and alprazolam (an anti-anxiety medication which was reclassified as Schedule 8 in mid-2014). Other drugs misappropriated were morphine (an opioid), buprenorphine (an opioid), diazepam (commonly used to treat anxiety or pain) and phentermine (a stimulant to aid weight loss).
The tribunal heard that Mr Balci was prescribed strong painkilling medication in late 2012 to treat a rib cage injury. In 2013, while working at the pharmacy Mr Balci was experiencing family conflict. This conflict and the pressures of his new role as a registered pharmacist were the context for his misappropriation of prescription only drugs. The tribunal heard that Mr Balci sought professional help from a general practitioner for opioid addiction in mid-2014.
In July 2014 the owner of the pharmacist confronted Mr Balci about the misappropriation of drugs. Mr Balci immediately admitted to the misappropriation and claimed he was addicted to the medication. Mr Balci promptly gave the Board an undertaking not to practice as a pharmacist without approval of the Board after his conduct had already been reported to the Board by his employer. As at the date of publication of this tribunal summary Mr Balci has not applied for re-registration since.
In February 2016, Mr Balci was charged and pleaded guilty in the Magistrates Court to nine charges under the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. No conviction was recorded and he was placed on a community corrections order for 15 months with conditions that he undergo drug addiction therapy, random drug testing and mental health assessment. Mr Balci was also ordered to pay costs.
In informing the tribunal in its decision the Board noted that if Mr Balci had not already spent three years without seeking to return to practice the Board would have sought cancellation of his registration.
The tribunal concluded that the evidence since July 2014 shows Mr Balci has committed to rehabilitation and has genuine remorse for his past actions. This evidence supported the tribunal’s decision to reprimand without requiring a period of suspension or cancellation.
The tribunal found that any re-registration by Mr Balci should be subject to conditions including: an independent psychiatric assessment, supervised practice and restricted access to controlled drugs.
The full decision was published on the AustLII website on 23 August 2017.