The College of Pharmacists of B.C. has slapped limits and conditions on one of its registrants after an investigation found he allowed a "grossly large" quantity of narcotics and other medications to be lost or taken from his pharmacy.
According to a May 20 disciplinary notice, registrant King Cheong (Steven) Lum is restricted from several roles, including owning or managing a pharmacy, placing orders for narcotic and controlled drugs and substances, and acting as a "preceptor" – a pharmacist who mentors pharmacists-in-training.
The college says the conditions will remain in place "pending completion of an investigation of his pharmacy practice."
He owned and operated a Shoppers Drug Mart in Surrey until May.
The college, citing privacy restrictions, declined to provide any additional information about the investigation, including what triggered it or the amount or types of drugs involved.
In its disciplinary notice, the college says Mr. Lum – while the manager, director and owner of a pharmacy – failed to safely manage and control inventory, "enabling a grossly large quantity of narcotic and controlled medication to be lost and/or taken from the pharmacy and potentially diverted, causing potential harm to the public."
Under Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, controlled drugs include fentanyl as well as morphine and oxycodone.
Shoppers Drug Mart assisted the college with its investigation and reviewed company policies in its wake, said Tammy Smitham, the company's vice-president of external communications. RCMP also were involved in the investigation, she said.
"We have very strict protocols in place to ensure the security of the narcotics within our pharmacies," Ms. Smitham said Wednesday in an e-mail.
"As part of our investigation of this incident, we reviewed those protocols and have since made further enhancements to strengthen our practices – including additional oversight from our operations teams and at the distribution level and increased reporting through internal audit," she added.
The disciplinary notice for Mr. Lum comes as British Columbia is grappling with a public-health emergency related to fatal overdoses, a growing number of which involve fentanyl, a powerful synthetic narcotic usually prescribed for pain control.
B.C. authorities declared the public-health emergency in April, following a surge in overdoses.
Police in the province have found illicitly manufactured fentanyl in pills being sold as "club drugs" and in powder mixed into other drugs, including cocaine and crystal methamphetamine.
Some prescription fentanyl – in the form of slow-release patches that are designed to provide continuous pain relief for 48 hours or more – is also diverted to the street and used by sucking on the patches or cutting the patch to extract the drug for injection, according to a B.C. public-health notice.
There were 371 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths in British Columbia from January to June of this year, the Coroners Service said in its most recent update, up 74.2 per cent from 213 in the same period last year.
About 60 per cent of those deaths involved fentanyl, compared with 31 per cent for the same period the previous year.
Stolen products are another source of illicit-drug supply.
In September of last year, British Columbia's pharmacy sector introduced DrugSafeBC – a program that required all community pharmacies to have time-delay safes to store narcotic drugs.
In an update last week, the college said the number of pharmacy robberies has dropped dramatically since the program was introduced.
In 2014, 39 robberies were reported to the college. In 2015, 41 had been reported by mid-September – spurring efforts to make narcotics less accessible. After the program was announced, there were only three robberies reported for the rest of 2015. To date this year, there have been seven.
Thieves are still targeting pharmacies. In February, the Surrey RCMP asked for public help in identifying suspects in a string of a dozen break-and-enters, committed or attempted, involving smaller pharmacies in Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford.
Police said the primary target of the break-ins were safes used to store narcotics.