Rural doctor suspended for abusing drugs

A RURAL Queensland doctor has been suspended for three months after the Medical Board of Australia discovered she was abusing drugs and posed a serious risk to public health and safety.

The doctor, according to a Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, was abusing marijuana and had an opioid dependence.

She failed to attend some urine tests, twice provided dilute samples and had some codeine use detected through hair samples.

QCAT confirmed the medical board's decision to take immediate action to suspend the woman but limited the period to three months before she can seek her licence back.

QCAT deputy president Alexander Horneman-Wren said the woman was the sole practitioner at a medical centre in a rural area who lacked insight into how her actions could affect patients.

"I have no doubt (she) is a dedicated, caring and compassionate doctor who has commendably chosen to practice medicine in a rural and remote area," he said.

"She has many patients, including a large number amongst the local Indigenous population.

"She is, it seems, highly regarded by other medical practitioners, allied health workers and the broader community.

"(But her) rhetorical question, posed during the hearing, of 'isn't a doctor who poses a serious risk to patients better than no doctor at all?' further demonstrates her present lack of appreciation of the need to protect the public against potential unsafe practice.

"In my view, because of (her) opioid dependence she poses a serious risk to persons.

"If (she) was to misuse opioids the potential for her to practise medicine in an impaired state is real.

"The risk may manifest itself in harm to patients."

A registered nurse at the same rural practice raised the alarm with the Queensland Health drug dependence unit which interviewed the doctor in August, 2012.

She admitted to self-prescribing and self-administering morphine and pethidine eight times for back pain and to relieve stress.

The woman said she could not see her marijuana use conflicting with her role as a medical practitioner.

She voluntarily surrendered her endorsement for controlled drugs but she was unreliable when it came to urine tests and refused to take a hair test, labelling the practice humiliating.

Judge Horneman-Wren said the woman had a pattern of not seeking help when dealing with stressors.

He said the doctor would not be sufficiently or appropriately managed without conditions requiring drug screening.


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