A Nova Scotia doctor has been charged with drug trafficking after police accused her of prescribing 50,000 potent opioid pills to a hospital patient who never received them.
Bridgewater police said Wednesday that 35-year-old Sarah Dawn Jones wrote prescriptions for oxycodone and oxyneo pills of a variety of dosages over a one-year period.
Police Chief John Collyer said it’s alleged the physician prescribed the powerful painkillers for a patient at the local hospital, but picked up the prescriptions herself at a Bridgewater pharmacy.
He said he’s concerned that a doctor is at the centre of the case, in a province that’s seen a series of deaths of young people tied to illegally circulating prescription drugs. According to the Canadian Journal of Addiction Medicine, there were 295 deaths tied to prescription drugs in Nova Scotia between 2007 and 2010.
“The trafficking of prescription narcotics is a problem throughout Nova Scotia. We’ve had a number of high profile deaths over the years, so we take it very seriously,” Collyer said in a telephone interview.
Jones is also accused of possession of narcotics for the purpose of trafficking, theft, breach of trust, drawing a document without authority and fraud.
This isn’t the first time a health care professional in Nova Scotia has been accused of malpractice in relation to prescription drugs. Dr. Trevor Locke, a family doctor based in Truro, was reprimanded in November for loosely prescribing opiates and failing to meet standards.
In September, Amanda Reid pleaded guilty to selling hydromorphone and fentanyl after stealing the drugs from the hospital where she worked.
Dr. Gus Grant, registrar and CEO of the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Nova Scotia, said medicine as an industry needs to accept a degree of responsibility for the “extraordinarily damaging social reality” of prescription drug abuse in Nova Scotia, and continue working to find solutions.
“Medicine has an important ownership to claim part of this problem,” he said in an interview. “I think finding a solution begins with a broader and clearer awareness of the extent of this problem within the medical profession and society as a whole.”
Grant said the college works closely with physicians to ensure opioid painkillers are always prescribed appropriately. The college also conducts peer reviews, as well as investigating and initiating complaints.
“We point physicians in the direction of resources and learning tools that will allow them to continue prescribing appropriately,” he said.
“We are primarily a watchdog, but I like to think we’re a guide dog as well.”
Grant also said the Nova Scotia prescription monitoring program, which he runs, is a great resource for physicians, regulators and lawmakers.
The provincially-funded program tracks specific prescription data for monitored drugs all over the province.
“Everything in medicine begins with data,” he said.
“The prescription monitoring program is an important tool for physicians to provide good care, and get feedback about the use of medications by their patients. It also allows regulators to track prescription data. We can track how much prescribing is being done, by whom, and where.”
Jones worked at the Crossroads Family Practice in the Halifax suburb of Tantallon, but Grant said she’s under an interim suspension and has stopped practising.
He also said Jones’ alleged crimes were reported to the college by a clinical pharmacist.
“The proactive steps taken by the individual who contacted the college should be applauded. That’s what health professionals should do,” he said. “The college and law enforcement have also worked very well together in this regard.”
Jones has been released from custody and is scheduled to appear in provincial court in Bridgewater on May 11.