Jail for chemist Maurice Currie who put £600,000 of prescription drugs on black market
A rogue chemist who flooded Northern Ireland with nearly a million potentially deadly tablets has been sentenced to 12 months in jail.
Maurice Currie (46) appeared at Newry Crown Court having previously pleaded guilty to 12 charges of illegally supplying huge quantities of prescription drugs - assessed at 875,000 tablets - over a five-year period between January 2009 and September 2013.
The drugs illegally supplied from the defendant's pharmacy at Railway Street, Armagh, were opiates and painkillers, including diazepam, tramadol, dihydrocodeine and oxynorm.
The drugs were valued at £60,000 to the pharmacy, although they had a potential street value of £600,000, the court heard.
His conviction follows a 18-month long investigation by the Department of Health's Medicines Regulatory Group (MRG).Currie, of Portmore Road, Lisburn had originally pleaded not guilty, but changed his plea last month.
In court yesterday, Currie's legal representative claimed that a shadowy figure from west Belfast had been the force behind the bulk of the missing 875,000 tablets and that the pharmacist had been acting under duress.
Currie initially fell under the MRG's suspicion when an audit was carried out at the pharmacy in September 2013. A shortfall of 44,000 tablets was discovered.
Several further audits were carried out, as it became clear that hundreds of thousands of prescription drugs were missing.
In a "panic knee-jerk reaction" attempt to cover up his tracks, Currie ordered three deliveries of Tramadol and Zopiclone tablets from suppliers to make up for the missing medication. But these deliveries were discovered during one of the MRG audits, the court was told.
Currie's defence barrister said that Currie had been depressed following the death of his mother, and had begun to abuse drugs himself in a bid to self medicate.
"He will now take it on the chin, that, as a pharmacist, there was more expected from him and he failed and he has been punished for that, with the loss of his job and good reputation of a respected man in the community," the barrister said.
Judge Kevin Finnegan said: "It is accepted that he succumbed to criminality after the death of his mother in which he suffered depression that could be considered post-traumatic stress disorder.
"This is a man of good character and I will give him significant credit for that.
"In some ways he tried to be helpful to people who could not get an appointment with their GP.
"He has now lost his job over this."
Speaking after Currie was sentenced, the head of the Medicines Regulatory Group, Professor Mike Mawhinney, said the case was unprecedented.
"I would urge the public to be vigilant and ensure that they do not put their health at risk by purchasing medication from any illicit source," he warned.
"It is also important to stress that this diversion was the result of the actions of a rogue pharmacist determined to break the law.
"The public can be assured that the vast majority of pharmacists in Northern Ireland continue to provide the public with an essential service in an honest and exceptionally professional manner."
A spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland - the professional regulatory body for pharmacists - said: "We have the powers to protect the public and, in conjunction with the Medicines Regulatory Group, we will use those powers robustly."
Almost a million pills reached streets
Before he was caught, Armagh pharmacist Maurice Currie enabled almost a million potentially deadly drug tablets to fall into the hands of Northern Ireland’s shadowy black market drug dealers — among them two highly dangerous Class A controlled drugs.
The list of drugs included:
Sevredol: a Class A drug containing morphine sulphate, used to treat severe pain
Oxynorm: a Class A drug containing oxycodone hydrochloride, an opioid analgesic used for severe pain
Tramadol: an analgesic used to treat moderate to severe pain — 146,103 tablets
Diazepam: a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety conditions — 167,004 tablets
Zopiclone: a hypnotic sleeping preparation — 52,646 tablets
Zolpidem: a hypnotic sleeping preparation — 100,650 tablets
Co-codamol: a painkiller containing paracetamol and codeine — 243,600 tablets
Dihydrocodeine: an analgesic used for moderate pain — 137,064 tablets
Temazapam: a hypnotic sleeping preparation — 29,197 tablets
Condemning Currie’s actions, Kate McClelland, chairperson of the Pharmacy Forum NI, said yesterday: “Pharmacists are highly trusted members of our communities — our role is to reduce harm by decreasing unnecessary, unsafe or inappropriate use of medication.
“There is no place in our profession for any illegal supply of prescription medicines.”