An Ulster doctor who battled a 10-year addiction to powerful painkillers and was convicted of illegal possession of heroin (also known as diamorphine) is to keep his job - despite claiming he will never be a GP again.
Dr Owen Rea (46) had been arrested by police and hauled into court when he was found slumped over his surgery desk in Coleraine after taking a morphine-like narcotic.
Yesterday Rea, who was said to be "deeply ashamed" of his behaviour, appeared before the General Medical Council in Manchester which said his actions "undermined the confidence which the public places in the medical profession."
But he escaped being struck off after the GMC panel said he must abide by a series of conditions over the next three years.
The incident occurred in March 2005 when Rea was practising as GP for an out of hours co-operative at the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine.
He obtained diamorphine - also known as heroin - plus another drug Cyclimorph from a local pharmacy.
The GMC was told he was required to have a stock of the two drugs to prescribe as painkillers for patients.
But he instead took four ampoules of Cyclimorph himself while working at the centre. He was said to have been found slumped at his desk and had to be rushed to hospital.
Later Rea admitted making false entries in the controlled drugs register.
Last December Rea - said to have been "deeply ashamed at his convictions " appeared at North Antrim magistrates court and was fined £750 with £64 costs.
He was convicted of unlawfully possessing a Class A drug and giving false information.
At the GMC yesterday much of the fitness to practise panel hearing was held in private due to issues over Rea's health.
The hearing was told that for the past two years Rea had exclusively worked for the Social Security Agency compiling assessments for incapacity benefit and living allowance.
The Panel chairman Polly Clarke said: "The Panel has considered that your convictions are inextricably linked to problems with your health. By their very nature your actions serve to undermine the confidence which the public places in the medical profession."
She added: "But the Panel notes that there is no question of direct patient harm in this case."
Conditions against Rea include him not taking any clinical work and obtaining the approval of supervisors if he accepts doctors' jobs. He also cannot be in possession of or prescribe drugs.