Dr NLM is a general practitioner who had opioid dependency issues. Over a period of nine months, he obtained opioids from his practice for use in the management of his bowel condition.

After this was discovered, the practitioner sought professional help and moved to another medical practice. A mandatory report was made to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency ('AHPRA'). In 2017, the matter was referred to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal

Background Facts

Dr NLM began working as the sole general practitioner in a small practice on 17 December 2013. When he commenced working, the owner of the general practice was on leave. Over a nine month period, Dr NLM removed opioids from the practice for personal treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. In August 2014, the owner of the practice noticed discrepancies in the drug register and confronted Dr NLM who subsequently surrendered his ability to prescribe addictive drugs. He commenced proper treatment of his irritable bowel syndrome by his GP and gastroenterologist.

On 28 November 2014, Dr NLM ceased working in the medical practice. On 1 December 2014, the practice owner made a mandatory notification about Dr NLM's conduct to the Health Ombudsman. On 7 January 2015, NLM moved to another practice where he fully disclosed his medical condition and past opioid issues.

On 21 January 2015, in an interview with the Health Ombudsman, Dr NLM admitted to his removing the opioids from his first practice. He noted that he had engaged a psychologist to explore any unresolved opioid dependency issues.

On 4 February 2015, the Queensland Immediate Action Committee of the Medical Board of Australia ('the Board') imposed conditions on Dr NLM's registration. These conditions related to supervision and a health assessment. The senior member of Dr NLM's new practice was appointed as his supervisor. The health assessment report, dated 4 May 2015, concluded that Dr NLM's conduct was a result of an opioid dependency. It also indicated that the practitioner was in the early stages of remission and was safe to practice under conditions.

On 3 November 2015, the Board maintained the conditions on Dr NLM's registration. The conditions required him to have supervision and to make regular reports to the Board regarding his health, conduct and performance. Further, Dr NLM continued to have restrictions on his use and prescribing of opioids. He was to continue treatment by a psychologist and undergo urine drug screening. Dr NLM complied with these conditions and obtained favourable reference from his supervisor.

On 6 June 2017, the Health Ombudsman referred the case to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal ('the Tribunal').

Findings

The Tribunal, with Dr NLM's admission, found that his conduct amounted to professional misconduct. While it accepted that Dr NLM had demonstrated remorse and insight, it held that public deterrence was still necessary because the community needed to be able to rely on medical practitioners to deal properly with drugs. Therefore, the Tribunal reprimanded Dr NLM and ordered him to pay a fine of $5,000. He was also ordered to pay the costs of the Health Ombudsman in the amount of $10,000.