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Senior pharmacist jailed for illegally supplying prescription painkillers and opiates struck off register


Pharmacist Maurice Currie arrives at Newry court yesterday

Pharmacist Maurice Currie arrives at Newry court yesterday

Pharmacist Maurice Currie arrives at Newry court yesterday

A senior pharmacist jailed earlier this year for illegally supplying almost a million prescription painkillers and opiates has been struck off the register.

At a hearing of the disciplinary committee of the Pharmaceutical Society of NI, last week, Chairwoman Gillian McGaughey said that by flooding the province with the illegal supply of prescription medicines, 46-year-old Maurice Currie had "brought the profession into disrepute and has inflicted serious damage on the reputation of pharmacists of NI."

"We are satisfied that his actions are fundamentally and incompatible with remaining on the register," declared the committee.

At Newry Crown Court last April Currie, from Portmore Road in Lisburn, pleaded guilty to 12 charges of illegally supplying prescription medicines  and controlled drugs including sleeping tablets and opiate painkillers diazepam, tramadol, dihydrocodeine and oxynorm.

The court heard that over a five year period between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2013, Currie gave out a total of 875,000 tablets which were worth £60,000 to his Railway Street pharmacy in Armagh but could have been sold for up to £600,000 on the black market for prescription tablets.

His defence claimed he had been acting under duress after a "shadowy figure" from west Belfast had been the driving force behind Currie's crimes and in imposing a 12 month jail term, Judge Kevin Finnegan QC said it was "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," added the judge who ordered that Currie spend half the sentence in jail and half on licence.

Despite that order, Currie served three months and has already been released under a Department of Justice early release scheme and the rogue chemist attended the hearing on Friday 18th September in person.

At that hearing, he heard PSNI lawyer Jon-Paul Shields lambast his actions as a "complete abrogation" of his public duty as a superintendent pharmacist who had showed "utter disregard for the principals and obligations."

"This was a deliberate, calculated and premeditated criminal conduct of the management and control of drugs which are susceptible to abuse and misuse," declared the lawyer.

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

Currie was caught after an audit at the end of 2013 revealed discrepancies between prescriptions and the amount of drugs given out but following further inspections, Currie tried to cover his tracks by ordering a huge amount of Tramadol and Diazepam from an English drug company.

At the disciplinary hearing, Chairwoman McGaughey said it was the committee's view that "the egregious nature of the admitted misconduct and the number and nature of the convictions had satisfied the committee that the defendant has brought the profession into disrepute and has breached the fundamental trust" the public has in pharmacists.

She said while Currie's defence lawyer had submitted that he could be punished by a temporary suspension, "the committee has concluded that the only proportionate sanction is erasure from the register," adding that him being struck off is "not to punish him but rather to protect the public."

Belfast Telegraph