Texas Board of Pharmacy

 

As many pharmacists are aware, the Professional Recovery Network (PRN) is a peer assistance program designed to aid licensees seeking treatment and other assistance with problems related to alcohol and substance abuse as well as certain mental illnesses. In this role PRN can play a valuable part in helping troubled pharmacists receive the counseling and intervention they need to regain control over their lives while continuing to exercise their skills and expertise through their practice.

 

While PRN is commendable in this regard, a recurrent problem I encounter in representing pharmacists before the Texas State Board of Pharmacy is that PRN does not fully disclose upfront the significant limitations in their confidentiality protections and their captured role vis a vis the Pharmacy Board. As an attorney, I frequently see this lack of full disclosure on the part of PRN result in significant harm to a pharmacist’s ability to defend themselves in any related Board disciplinary action avoid the imposition of a severe and prolonged public disciplinary orders.

 

There are two primary ways in which pharmacists can become involved with PRN: These are through a referral, either by the individual themselves or a third party, or through a disciplinary investigation initiated by the Texas State Board of Pharmacy. In either case, PRN will take an initial history and likely perform an in-house assessment on the pharmacist licensee in addition to having the individual evaluated by an outside expert. Following this PRN, will present the pharmacist with a contract asking them to agree to participate for a number of years in a list of recovery activities and other requirements. This typically includes agreeing to complete an intensive inpatient or outpatient recovery program, regular attendance of AA or other support group meetings, submission to randomized drug testing, and potentially other restrictions focused on their ability to function as a PIC or working without being unsupervised by another pharmacist. Another mandated requirement is a consent form allowing PRN to turn the pharmacist’s entire file over to the Pharmacy Board in the event they fail to comply with any aspect of the agreement.

 

The fundamental problem is that up until this point pharmacists (even self-referrals) are not told that if they, for whatever reason, decide not to enter into the PRN agreement then PRN will forward their full file to the Pharmacy Board. Based on the stories of many of my clients, prior to this juncture licensees are assured that everything they tell PRN is confidential. As seen above, this is seriously misleading and, in my opinion, arguably illegal.

 

By this point the pharmacist has likely made numerous statements and admissions to PRN which will be turned over to the Texas State Board of Pharmacy and used as evidence in any disciplinary action. The licensee has probably also undergone an assessment with an addiction specialist or other mental health professional. This expert’s report will likewise be forwarded to the Board. With the receipt of the above damaging admissions and other evidence, which likely would not have been made had the pharmacist been aware that PRN does not, in fact, strictly maintain their confidentiality, the Board’s case is already fully formed and ready to prosecute. The licensee’s legal options at this time are likely very circumscribed even though this is often the first time they may consider contacting an attorney. With little room to maneuver, the pharmacist can essentially be forced to sign a public and long-term Agreed Order that significantly restricts their ability to function as an ongoing concern.

 

What pharmacist’s need to understand is that PRN is the Texas State Board of Pharmacy’s statutory peer assistance program under the Health and Safety Code and as such can function as an arm of the Board in disciplinary actions. The first and primary consequence of this captured status is the disclosure of supposedly confidential information to the Board. In the future I hope to write about other issues with this conflicting mandate and the way it can subvert PRN’s ostensible role as an agency set-up to encourage troubled pharmacists to seek need treatment and intervention.  

 

The bottom-line is that every pharmacist who is dealing with or considering contacting PRN needs to be aware that any information or statements provided by them can be, and often is, turned over to the Pharmacy Board. Consulting with a Texas pharmacy license attorney either prior to or after you have made contact with PRN is likely a prudent step to ensure you aren’t unnecessarily jeopardizing your ability to continue practicing as a pharmacist..

 

In the past year the Texas State Board of Pharmacy has started attempting to strictly enforce their recent amendments to the Board’s administrative rules related to punishment for criminal offenses. These rules prescribe certain standard disciplinary sanctions for a wide-ranging list of specific offenses. Pharmacists with either a criminal record or a pending criminal case should take note as the sanctions involved are generally quite severe and can include revocation of a licensee’s registration by the Pharmacy Board.

 

For example, according to the guidelines a pharmacist who is convicted or placed on deferred adjudication/probation for a felony drug-related offense under Chapter 481 or 483 of the Health and Safety Code related to fraud, or the manufacture, delivery, theft, or possession with intent to deliver of drugs is subject to the denial or revocation of their pharmacist license until 20 years after the date of disposition. Even at the twenty year mark, the guidelines state the Texas State Board of Pharmacy’s intent to place the pharmacist on a five year probationary order.

 

For those pharmacists convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for the felony possession of drugs, the guidelines state that the Board will deny, revoke, or suspend the professional’s license if they are still on probation. Likewise, if the pharmacist is not on probation but it has been five or less years since the date of disposition, then they are eligible for a five year probationary order but only if they have first been evaluated by an addiction specialist who opines that they are safe to continue practicing pharmacy. Even if it has been over twenty years since the date of disposition, the TSBP still wants to place the pharmacist on a one year probationary order. Of additional note is that the guidelines apply essentially the same set of penalties to a pharmacist convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for misdemeanor possession.

 

It has been my experience as an attorney that the Texas State Board of Pharmacy tries to strictly adhere to these guidelines at the informal stage of the investigatory process only to become somewhat more receptive to mitigating evidence and other factors once a case has been filed at SOAH. Unfortunately, I have seen many pro se or poorly represented pharmacists accept the Board’s settlement offer, however harsh, at the informal stage out of sense that nothing better is possible.

 

Legally speaking, the TSBP’s sanction guidelines are only just that: guidelines. Although an Administrative Law Judge will give the guidelines some deference at a formal administrative hearing, Pharmacy Board attorneys are still required to show that under the specific factors present in that case, the requested sanction is warranted. On the flipside, it is the burden of the pharmacist and their attorney to draw out the mitigating factors and demonstrate why a lesser sanction is in order. This necessarily demands an intimate and working knowledge of the rest of the Pharmacy Board’s rules, the Texas Pharmacy Act, and other pertinent sections of the Texas Occupations Code, including Chapter 53, as to first, what are the relevant mitigating factors and second, how to get them into evidence.

 

Every pharmacist with a criminal record or a pending criminal case should be aware of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy’s new sanction policies. If you are in such a situation I strongly advise that you contact an attorney experienced in administrative law and representation before the Texas State Board of Pharmacy to discuss possible outcomes and preemptive courses of action.

Recently, the Texas State Board of Pharmacy has been engaging in a far-reaching investigatory sweep aimed at identifying unlicensed pharmacy technicians and pharmacy technician trainees. Pharmacists in the state of Texas need to be aware of these actions and any pharmacists ensnared by the Texas State Board of Pharmacy should contact an experienced professional licensing attorney immediately.

Recently, my firm has experienced an onslaught of calls from pharmacists whose pharmacies have been raided by Board investigators searching for the presence of unlicensed pharmacy technicians and pharmacy technician trainees, a violation of §§ 297 and 295.3 of Title 22 of the Texas Administrative Code. This is important as under § 295.3 of the Pharmacy Board’s Rules the pharmacist-in-charge has a standing duty to ensure the pharmacy is in compliance with all applicable laws and rules. This includes making sure that all employees are properly licensed. The usual result is a sizable administrative penalty and permanent mark on the pharmacist’s licensing record.

 

These violations are largely procedural: Pharmacy Technicians not paying renewal fees as required by § 297.4, or Techs are not properly applying for their temporary license, or not applying at all. Pharmacists need to be aware of the licensing status of their Technicians and Technician Trainees and should verify this on the Pharmacy Board website. 

 

Oftentimes, early intervention by an experienced licensing attorney can defuse the situation and placate the Texas State Board of Pharmacy. The usual result in this type of case is an administrative penalty and a permanent mark of the pharmacist’s licensing record. Under the applicable statutes and rules, however, the Board has the authority, and sometimes elects, to pursue a more serious sanction including the imposition of various encumbrances on the pharmacist’s license which make it very difficult for them to continue as an ongoing concern.

 

If you are being investigated for this or any other reason, I strongly advise you to immediately contact an attorney familiar with the Pharmacy Board as they are one of the most aggressive state licensing Boards in Texas.

 

Within the last two weeks my firm has signed on as clients two pharmacists who have encountered first-hand the aggressive tactics used by investigators at the Texas State Board of Pharmacy. This is something I feel all pharmacists and pharmacy technicians need to be aware of so they do not inadvertently damage themselves or accidently forfeit their right to contest the Board’s charges.

The day after I had sent in my letter of representation to the Pharmacy Board regarding the first client, the pharmacist contacted me by phone to tell me that a Board investigator was at her pharmacy asking her to sign a sworn statement admitting to the Board’s allegations. I asked her to transfer the phone to the investigator who stated that he was not aware that my client was represented by an attorney. He apologized and it was clear that he was genuinely unaware that the pharmacist was represented. Nonetheless had my client been unable to get in contact with me at that moment she may have made potentially harmful admissions.

The second client informed me that the evening before he retained me an investigator showed up at his home to essentially interrogate him and, again, have him sign a sworn statement admitting to the Board’s allegations. The investigator represented himself as both an employee of the Board and a licensed peace officer. He asked numerous loaded questions in his quest for additional allegations and also told the pharmacist how lucky he was that the Board did not turn his matter over to the local prosecutor. Thankfully, my client had the good sense not to tell the investigator anything or sign any statements.

These two experiences are unfortunately typical. Oftentimes the first time a pharmacist even learns that they are being scrutinized by the Board is when an investigator suddenly shows up at their home or place of employment demanding records and signed confessions. Duly intimidated by the Pharmacy Board’s strong-arm police tactics the licensee frequently signs a premade confession or discloses potentially damaging information without first consulting an attorney.

Make no mistake, despite any entreaties to the contrary the Board and its investigators are not your friends and they are not there to objectively assess the allegations to determine their merit; they are there to build the Board’s case against you and parse out info that can lead to additional allegations. I emphatically recommend that as soon as an investigator is at your door to politely decline talking with them or giving any statements and immediately contact an attorney with experience before the Texas State Board of Pharmacy. At that point your livelihood and reputation are plainly at stake. Do not try and go it alone and do not think you can “work things out” with the investigator.

 

Texas State Board of Pharmacy Overreaches Statutory Mandate Regarding Deferred Adjudications/Community Supervision:

 

I am currently serving as the defense attorney in several cases before the Texas State Board of Pharmacy that involve clients who are presently on deferred adjudication/community supervision for drug related offenses. In all of these cases the Board has taken the position that their Rules mandate the outright revocation of the license of any pharmacist or pharmacist tech who is on community supervision or probation for a felony drug related offense regardless of the circumstances or any other factor. This is outrageous and a clear contravention of their statutory mandate.

 

All administrative licensing agencies are creatures of statute and accordingly must derive their authority to regulate from law passed by the state Legislature. The Texas Pharmacy Act sets forth the public mandate of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy in § 551.002 of the Texas Occupations Code. This Sections states that it is the purpose of the Pharmacy Act and the Pharmacy Board “to regulate in the public interest the practice of pharmacy in this state as a professional practice…” in such a way that will “promote, preserve, and protect the public health, safety, and welfare.” Tex. Occ. Code § 551.002. Try as it might, the Board must regulate and discipline pharmacists while remaining within the confines of this public mandate.

 

In defiance of § 551.002, the Board has, within the past three years, passed and frequently amended Title 22 § 281.64 of the Texas Administrative Code in such a way as to make it impossible for any pharmacist or pharmacist tech to retain their license if they are also placed on deferred adjudication. For example, under Rule 218.64 any pharmacist or pharmacist tech who has been convicted of or is currently on deferred adjudication or deferred disposition for a felony involving either 1) mere possession or 2) the manufacture, delivery, or possession with intent to deliver, fraud, or theft of drugs is automatically subject to the revocation or denial of their license. This is without regard to the individual’s culpability, rehabilitation, age at the time of offense, or current fitness to serve as a licensed pharmacist or pharmacist tech. In many situations the pharmacist is not even deemed eligible for licensure until 20 years has passed since the date of disposition.

 

This Rule is in clear conflict with the Board’s statutory mandate. That mandate requires the Board to regulate “in the public interest” and in such a way that will “promote, preserve, and protect the public health, safety, and welfare.” Tex. Occ. Code § 551.002. Licensure revocation based merely in the bare fact of being on community supervision or probation for a drug-related offense satisfies neither of these standards. This Rule takes no account of the pharmacist or pharmacist tech’s extent of involvement in the criminal offense, whether they were even aware a criminal offense was being committed, or whether their participation was minimal or expansive. No account is taken of the licensee’s subsequent rehabilitation, their youthfulness at the time of the offense, or their present and future value to the community. The only thing that matters is whether or not twenty years have passed since the date of disposition.

 

Keep in mind that under Chapter 53 of the Texas Occupations Code licensing agencies such as the Pharmacy Board are required to take into account a set of specified mitigating factors, many of which are listed above, when taking a disciplinary action against a licensee who has actually been convicted of the same offense. Arguably on this ground alone, the Pharmacy Board’s Rule 281.64 is ultra vires (A Latin phrase crucial to administrative law which translates as “beyond the powers”) and hence void.

Continue Reading Texas State Board of Pharmacy Overreaches Statutory Mandate

Last week I resolved three cases involving pleas of guilty or no contest to drug / alcohol related offenses and the subsequent investigations and prosecutions by the individual Client’s respective State licensing Board(s):

  • The Texas Optometry Board
  • The Texas State Board of Pharmacy
  • The Texas Medical Board

In each case, although the Board did not have jurisdiction to discipline for the criminal status in-and-of-itself, each agency found a way to link the conduct (the actions behind the commission of the criminal offense) to the Client’s occupational practice and attempt to resolve the matter through a reasonable agreed order. 

Neither the Texas Pharmacy Act nor the Texas Optometry Act afforded jurisdiction to the agency to discipline the license holder for the court ordered felony deferred adjudication probation(s). However, public scrutiny being what it is, each Board simply stated that the conduct was egregious and unbecoming of a licensee. Moreover, the Board’s mission was to protect the public and each agency felt this was something the public should know about. 

Continue Reading Deferred Adjudication Probation & Discipline by State Licensing Boards

Authorized under Chapter 564 of the Pharmacy Act, the Professional Recovery Network (PRN) offers a means for chemically dependent and/or mentally ill pharmacists and pharmacy students to confidentially enter a recovery program with the goal of integrating them back into professional practice. Founded by the Texas Pharmacy Association, PRN provides an incentive for pharmacist’s suffering from mental illness or chemical dependency to commit to early treatment and thereby avoid additional harm to the public and themselves.

A person who has who has knowledge of an act or omission by a pharmacist that could provide grounds for discipline under Section 565.001(a)(4) or (7) of the Pharmacy Act- mental illness and intemperate use of drugs or alcohol respectively- may report the license holder to the PRN. In addition to such reports by concerned colleagues and family members, pharmacists and students are encouraged to self-report to PRN. The Pharmacy Board may also refer the professional to PRN in lieu of a disciplinary proceeding. Once PRN receives a report they will contact the pharmacist, if it was not a self-report, and refer them to a mental health evaluator. After meeting the mental health evaluator, the pharmacist will enter into a Recovery Support Agreement with the PRN committing themselves to treatment and recovery. The Agreement will outline the proposed treatment program and include specific recommendations made by the evaluator. By entering into the Support Agreement, the pharmacist or student will also consent to maintaining contact with the PRN Staff and an assigned mentor, providing written quarterly reports, and, if appropriate, undergoing random drug screens. The pharmacist’s mentor, who is either a pharmacist with a long history of sobriety or extensive experience in a twelve-step program, is there to support, advise, and advocate for the professional throughout treatment.

Continue Reading Pharmacists: Addiction, Mental Health & PRN

A combination of increased competition from large chain brick-and-mortar pharmacies, mail-order refills, and the rise of the internet as a medium for both legal and illegal activity have driven many unsuspecting pharmacists into the dangerous world of “internet pharmacy.” Since at least 1999, various federal agencies led by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FDA have combined efforts with state law enforcement and state licensing boards to crackdown on internet pharmacies. The result has been the revocation of professional licenses, stiff fines, and long prison sentences. Many of the pharmacists victimized by this legal dragnet have been severely prosecuted simply because they failed to exercise enough caution when entering the minefield of internet pharmacy.

The target of these law enforcement and regulatory efforts follows a typical pattern of organization and prescription/dispensing process. Oftentimes pharmacists and physicians will be approached by a “facilitator”, which may be in the form of a corporation or other entity who are seeking licensed medical personnel to participate. Fees are often paid on a per prescription basis and can be supplemented with generous handling fees for the pharmacists and consulting fees for the doctors. Such facilitators will point to doctors and pharmacists who have already signed on to give their business plan a deeper air of legitimacy and better induce the medical professional(s) to join.

Once the internet pharmacy contracts the necessary professionals, the prescription and dispensing of controlled substances begins. The patient, who may or may not be legitimate, first tries to order a drug online and is then asked to fill out a preliminary questionnaire which will be viewed by a physician. This doctor, who usually never sees the patient and often lives in a different state, reviews the questionnaire and prescribes the requested medication. The prescription is then transmitted to the pharmacist, who can be in yet another state, who fills it and ships it to the patient. Unfortunately, this process, especially the absence of a proper examination and diagnosis, violates most States’ regulatory rules and exposes all participants to administrative and criminal action.

Continue Reading Internet Pharmacies: TSBP & Federal Investigations & Prosecutions