Pharmacist License Discipline

Pharmacists face license discipline, just like other healthcare professionals. It's not only doctors and nurses who face challenging personal issues and professional situations, in professions that demand their utmost. Pharmacists have similar challenges. And rest assured: state pharmacy boards are on the lookout for situations that may call for license discipline. Every year, pharmacists lose their professional licenses to suspension or revocation. Don't let that happen to you. If you face pharmacy license disciplinary proceedings, then retain professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm to defend you. Your pharmacy license is worth the defense.

Personal Causes of License Discipline

The practice of pharmacy is complex, entailing risks for even the most skilled and dedicated professionals. Those risks include more than just simple, honest mistakes. Those risks can also have deep-rooted and complex personal causes. See, for instance, this journal article on the complex causes of addiction among pharmacists. All of us face personal challenges. Many professionals are able to insulate their personal issues from their professional practice. But many discipline issues nonetheless begin with personal problems. Pharmacists can have the following kinds of personal issues leading to disciplinary proceedings over their pharmacy practice:

  • mental health issues affecting cognition, memory, emotions, attention, concentration, and attendance, damaging professional relationships, and interfering with the ability to consistently perform to pharmacy standards
  • physical health issues affecting safety, exposure, demeanor, sanitation, mobility, attendance, and the ability to consistently perform to pharmacy standards
  • drug, alcohol, pornography, gambling, or other addictions, damaging professional and employment relationships and interfering with the ability to consistently perform to standards
  • civil lawsuits, criminal charges, bankruptcies, and other legal problems affecting attendance and attention, and damaging professional relationships and the ability to perform to standards
  • death, injury, or illness of loved ones, requiring absences, limited hours, and flexible hours, damaging professional and employment relationships, and interfering with acceptable performance
  • home fire, eviction, or other loss of housing, requiring absences and affecting attention, damaging professional and employment relationships, and interfering with acceptable performance
  • divorce, child-custody disputes, relationship breakups, and other relationship issues that affect attention and professional performance
  • investment losses, theft losses, and other financial reversals affecting attention, requiring absences, and damaging professional and employment relationships

Professional Causes of License Discipline

Pharmacists can also face disciplinary proceedings arising not out of their personal issues but out of professional issues. Sometimes, those issues have to do with the pharmacist's lack of skill or experience. But pharmacists can also find themselves in difficult situations not of their own making but due to unfairly demanding supervisors and employers, poorly trained colleagues and staff, poorly equipped workplaces, and confused and unreasonable customer patients. In some cases, as in the one profiled in this Pharmacy Today article, very well-meaning pharmacists can just find it hard to comply with all the rules. Professional causes of pharmacist disciplinary proceedings can include:

  • errors fulfilling prescriptions or providing prescription information
  • errors, omissions, or irregularities documenting drug transactions
  • misbranding drugs or other similar labeling issues
  • practice of pharmacy without a valid and current license in the jurisdiction
  • dispensing drugs without valid prescriptions
  • dispensing unauthorized substances or substances for unauthorized uses
  • conversion of pharmacy funds or other financial misappropriation
  • conversion of pharmacy medications for personal use or sale
  • failing to complete, or affirmatively falsifying, customer patient records
  • coding, billing, and similar financial recordkeeping irregularities

Pharmacy Law and Boards

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy partners with state pharmacy boards to protect public health. That mission means patrolling pharmacy practice for professionals who may present undue risks to the public. Pharmacy boards in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states license pharmacists for practice within the state. New York's Education Law Section 6800 et seq. is an example, requiring anyone practicing pharmacy in the state to hold a license that the state’s pharmacy board issues. But those state boards don't just license pharmacists. They also investigate pharmacists against whom employers, patients, colleagues, or others complain. Section 6822 of New York's pharmacy laws, for instance, authorizes pharmacy board officials to investigate pharmacy practice themselves or through any other state or federal official. Pharmacy licensing laws can even criminalize certain forms of pharmacy misconduct. Section 6811 of New York's law, for instance, makes it a misdemeanor to do any of the following acts, among many other restrictions:

  • carry on any pharmacy business without a valid and current license
  • refuse to permit an investigator to inspect the pharmacy premises
  • refuse to relinquish a suspended or revoked pharmacy license
  • fail to display the pharmacy license where employed as a pharmacist
  • allow display of a pharmacy license where the pharmacist is not employed
  • adulterate or misbrand drugs, or deal in adulterated or misbranded drugs
  • destroy or remove drug labels resulting in misbranding
  • employ false advertising related to pharmacy practice

Examples of Pharmacist Discipline

Learning the nature and severity of pharmacist license discipline isn't hard. Pharmacy licensing boards publish their discipline actions. While complaints against a pharmacist may remain confidential, the public generally has ready access online to discipline results. A discipline charge should deeply concern you. But all is not yet lost with a charge. The key is to mount an effective defense if such a defense is available to you, as is often the case. You don't want your matter to result in discipline and the publication of that discipline. Discipline is generally reciprocal. Reciprocity means that if you hold a license in more than one state, all states may impose discipline for discipline in one state. You must generally report to all states in which you hold a license, discipline that you receive in any one state. Pennsylvania's pharmacy board, for example, imposed this discipline in these recent cases, including multiple instances where discipline in another state resulted in discipline in Pennsylvania:

  • in September 2021, a four-year suspension for failing to report license discipline in another state, and civil fines of $3,000 in two similar cases
  • in August 2021, a reprimand, remedial education, and $3,500 civil penalty for gross incompetence
  • in July 2021, immediate suspension for failure to pay child support, and a three-year suspension for violating a board order
  • in June 2021, license revocation for felony conviction related to pharmacy practice, and a $5,000 penalty and remedial education for failing to safeguard drugs
  • in May 2021, license revocation on the grounds that continued practice would endanger the public

Substance Abuse Risks

Pharmacists obviously have access to drugs. That access makes substance abuse a peculiar personal and professional concern for pharmacists, as a Pharmacy Times article indicates. That article indicates that as many as ten to fifteen percent of healthcare professionals struggle with substance abuse. Temptation has its own power. An inordinately large number and percentage of pharmacist license proceedings relate in some way to pharmacist substance abuse or suspected substance abuse. Access to drugs means that some pharmacists, unfortunately, divert drugs to their own misuse or facilitate drug misuse by others. Yet innocent pharmacists can also get charged with professional misconduct based on suspicion of substance abuse or diversion of drugs for substance abuse. Pharmacy practice is simply fraught with that hazard. If you face pharmacy licensing board allegations of the misuse or abuse of drugs, then you need especially skilled and aggressive defense attorney help. Retain professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm to defend you.

Alternative Solutions

Fortunately, state laws offer professionals, including pharmacists, alternatives to discipline in many qualifying cases involving substance abuse or similar addictions. The national Pharmacists Recovery Network lists substance-abuse resources and programs for pharmacists in all states having those programs. States like New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all offer pharmacists and other professionals some form of voluntary recovery program, also known as a professional assistance program. Those programs help pharmacists get treatment for diagnosed substance abuse disorders and other conditions. Impaired professionals, especially pharmacists, may deserve treatment, as an authoritative journal article aptly indicates. Pharmacists who qualify for these programs can often delay or, in some cases, entirely avoid license discipline. Voluntary recovery programs are not a free pass. Participants must earn their way back into good standing by completing program conditions. Those conditions can include any or all of the following:

  • remedial pharmacy education and training
  • additional supervision and support while on pharmacy duty
  • voluntary restrictions on pharmacy practice to certain duties
  • reassignment to other pharmacy duties
  • relocation to other pharmacy or pharmacy-related employment

Voluntary recovery programs are not for everyone. Just because you face a false or exaggerated discipline charge does not mean that you should enter such a program. You may instead need an aggressive attorney defense to defeat a false or unfair charge. But in some cases, a voluntary recovery program is perfectly suitable and appropriate. A skilled professional license defense attorney may convince a reluctant pharmacy board to offer that option. A license defense attorney with substantial experience may also generate other creative options your discipline board has not considered. Retain national professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento to help you pursue alternative resolution of your pharmacy disciplinary proceeding.

Understanding the Disciplinary Process

Pharmacists don't generally have legal training or experience with legal procedures. Pharmacy licensing proceedings are administrative procedures with rules that satisfy legal due process. Those rules mean that the pharmacist will receive notice of the disciplinary charges and an opportunity to challenge the charges in a fair proceeding. Notice of disciplinary charges generally means that the discipline officials received one or more complaints, investigated those complaints, and found some evidence or information supporting misconduct. You will have the right to respond if you timely answer the charges. Answering the charges is the first in a series of procedural steps for which you should have expert attorney representation. Professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm are ready to help you follow state disciplinary procedures to save your pharmacy license.

How to Respond to an Investigation

Do not ignore a notice of charges or request for investigation. Instead, retain the expert attorney help you need to ensure that you respond timely and accurately. Don't cause yourself further problems with a late, inaccurate, or incomplete answer. Inexpert answers can make you look responsible for wrongs that you did not commit. Also, be cautious of disciplinary officials. They may give you advice that you can handle the matter alone simply by doing as they desire. That advice is often poor advice. Discipline officials protect the public, not you. They have their own interests and agenda. Indeed, they would have a conflict of interest if they purported to represent you. Instead, retain your own attorney representative to respond to discipline officials after giving you sound, independent, and informed advice. Many professional discipline matters resolve early after an exchange of information and perhaps some negotiations over appropriate relief. You need expert attorney help to investigate and pursue those options.

Handling a Formal Hearing

If your pharmacy license disciplinary proceeding does not resolve early and instead moves forward toward a formal hearing, then you should expect to prepare your formal presentation to convince officials of your innocence or to mitigate any discipline that officials may impose. Both sides generally prepare for the hearing by confirming the testimony of witnesses, gathering and organizing exhibits, and exchanging information. The hearing itself may proceed in a trial-like fashion, although with relaxed evidence rules. The pharmacy discipline officials will have a prosecutor-like representative. The pharmacy board or its designee will be an independent decision-maker. Your attorney representative will need to cross-examine the discipline officials' witnesses and present your own witnesses for their testimony. While the discipline officials will bear the proof burden, that burden is low. You generally must present a strong case in defense. Don't attempt trial-like procedures on your own. Retain professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento for this advocacy skills.

Appealing an Adverse Decision

Your state's pharmacy board rules and other laws likely provide for an administrative or even court appeal of the hearing decision. North Carolina, for a common example, offers court review of final agency decisions, including a pharmacy board decision imposing discipline. The case of Sunscript Pharmacy Corporation v. North Carolina Board of Pharmacy is an example of a court review of pharmacist discipline. An appeal means that if you lose after the formal hearing, you get a second chance at avoiding discipline before a different decision-maker. Your expert professional license defense attorney will advise you as to the prospects for a successful appeal and the procedures to invoke an appeal. Promptly retain professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm to evaluate your appeal rights and pursue your appeal if you have suffered pharmacist discipline. Appellate practice requires special skills. Don't risk an appeal on your own.

Sanctions

State pharmacy acts, together with general provisions applying to licensing of all professionals, give broad discretion to state pharmacy boards to impose a wide range of sanctions against a pharmacist's license. License proceedings are serious business. License disciplinary proceedings can result in much more than simple warnings or reprimands. Licensing boards can impose progressive discipline, all the way from a warning to license revocation. Licensing boards can also impose remedial discipline, attempting to restore persons whom pharmacy misconduct harms. New Jersey's Uniform Enforcement Act, for instance, authorizes all of these forms of discipline:

  • letter of warning, reprimand, or censure
  • civil penalties
  • cease and desist orders
  • orders to take corrective action
  • divulgence and return of money or property unlawfully gained
  • medical or other treatment as a condition of license reinstatement
  • submission to diagnostic testing as a condition of license retention
  • submission to a skills assessment as a condition of license retention
  • additional education and training
  • practice only under specified supervision
  • license suspension
  • license revocation

Retain a Skilled Professional License Defense Attorney

Professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has represented professionals across the healthcare disciplines, including pharmacists, all over the country. Attorney Lento demonstrates the compassion and commitment that pharmacists need to make the best of difficult license proceedings. Help is available. You need not and should not face a license proceeding alone. Your pharmacy license and career are worth too much to you to do anything other than get the best available attorney help. Attorney Lento and the team at the Lento Law Firm are ready to represent and defend you. You need more than a local lawyer who has little or no experience with license discipline proceedings. Instead, rely on an experienced attorney who has preserved the licenses of many healthcare professionals. Retain professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm for your pharmacy license defense in any state. Call 888-535-3686 now or use the online service.

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