As a registered or licensed pharmacy, you must comply with strict legal and ethical standards for accepting and filling medical prescriptions. With increased public attention on prescription abuse and other misconduct, your actions and omissions face considerable scrutiny. This especially becomes true if you receive a complaint from the licensing board.
Ignoring the complaint is not an option. Without a careful response and defense to the complaint, discipline by the board will follow. This may include the loss of your license to practice pharmacy or fill prescriptions that require a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
When can a pharmacy board revoke my license? You face revocation or other discipline for dispensing medications without a proper prescription, falsifying prescriptions and reports, violating federal laws on medications or grossly failing to follow proper standards of practice. Convictions related to medications or pharmacy, even from other states, can also subject you to discipline.
The pharmacy board may revoke a license if it finds that the particular pharmacist is incompetent or unfit to practice. Evidence of substance abuse, a severe mental condition or constant intoxication can support such a finding.
For less serious infractions or violations, especially if it’s your first time, the board likely will not revoke or even suspend the license. Instead, your discipline may take the form of fines or reprimands.
How do I respond to a complaint or investigation? At the outset, you should decline offers from the board to voluntarily relinquish or surrender your license or to submit to an informal hearing. These actions often function as the equivalent of an admission by you that grounds exist for discipline.
Depending on the allegations, the pharmacy board’s investigation of your actions might include possible criminal activity. As such, you have no obligation to incriminate yourself. Legal representation can help you avoid making damaging statements or other legal traps set by board or law enforcement investigators. Consult with your malpractice insurer or agent on whether your coverage includes defense of pharmacy board disciplinary actions.
The attorney will need to know the specifics of the allegations. If you haven’t already, you should receive a copy of the complaint. Discuss with the lawyer all of your actions, the particular prescriptions in question and all information on which you relied in filling the prescription or dispensing the medication. With a full understanding of the complaint and the facts and evidence involved, the lawyer can fashion an appropriate response.
A pharmacy license defense lawyer may persuade the board that there is no “probable cause” that you have violated the pharmacy laws or rules. At that point, the board will close the inquiry and take no further action.
What happens in a formal disciplinary hearing? Should the pharmacy board conclude that probable cause or reasonable grounds exist for the complaint, you will then proceed to a formal hearing. Either a hearing officer or administrative law judge will receive evidence. Your lawyer may cross-examine witnesses who testify against you and offer evidence and argument on your own behalf. The decision maker assesses the credibility of witnesses, determines how to weigh the evidence, finds the facts and decides what discipline, if any, should be imposed against you.
From a revocation or other disciplinary action, your recourse turns to a trial court. Judicial review by a trial judge does mean a new trial or a second chance to have the facts determined in your favor. The judge considers only the witnesses and documents in the record before the hearing officer or panel. You must demonstrate that the hearing officer or board interpreted the law incorrectly, did not have a sufficient basis to find the facts against you, or you did not get a fair hearing. This same standard applies should you seek appellate review from the trial court’s decision to uphold the disciplinary action.
An experienced pharmacy or health law attorney can help you defend against the potential loss of your license or reputation as a pharmacist. Consider using a lawyer who has appeared numerous times or regularly before a pharmacy board and grasps the standards of pharmacy practice.