A pharmacist who went door-to-door handing out naloxone kits in a neighbourhood ravaged by opioid use choked back tears on Friday as he admitted to professional misconduct.
At a disciplinary hearing, Jason Newman, of London, Ont., said he felt he had no choice given the urgent need for the potentially life-saving drug.
"I am guilty of misconduct," Newman said haltingly. "Despite that, I have certainly saved lives with what I did."
Newman admitted to failing to live up to professional standards by improperly supervising people who helped him give out the anti-opioid drug. He also agreed he had failed to live up to an undertaking he gave the Ontario College of Pharmacists in February last year to abide by the standards.
The pharmacist said he was spurred to action when he visited a homeless shelter but staff refused to allow him to offer training in naloxone use. They turned him down again a week later, he said, even after someone died of an overdose.
"I decided it was necessary to train people around the area as quickly as possible," Newman said.
Naloxone is a potentially life-saving medication used to reverse opioid overdoses.
It can be given free to members of the public, although pharmacists can claim a dispensing fee. However, pharmacists are supposed to provide education on its use, on identifying overdoses, the importance of calling 911, and resuscitation among other things.
Newman said he began going door-to-door to up to 40 businesses in the immediate area, but delegated some of the distribution task because he couldn't do it all himself. He said he allowed a non-pharmacist employee to provide kit recipients with background information and training, but only after extensive practice.
"We'd already been through it several hundred times," he said.
As part of his admissions, Newman agreed to a new undertaking to abide by the rules, saying he now has 10 other pharmacists he can count on for distribution and training.
The college, which withdrew other related allegations against Newman in exchange for his admissions, made it clear it was not alleging any dishonesty or disgraceful conduct, its lawyer Matthew Gourlay said.
Gourlay told the hearing Newman believes that having naloxone kits in as many hands as possible is crucial to stemming the tide of opioid deaths. The stigma around drug use is a barrier to obtaining services, prompting the pharmacist to do his outreach, the panel heard.
The panel was given an agreed statement of facts in which Newman admitted his misconduct.
"These allegations have to do with Mr. Newman's work in dispensing naloxone in the community," Gourlay told the hearing. "Mr. Newman has done important work in that area but has breached certain guidelines of the college."
The breaches, Gourlay said, related to dispensing naloxone without regard to individual need or clinical appropriateness, allowing non-pharmacist employees or agents to give out the drug, and failing to provide appropriate level of supervision to them.
Newman said he was always nearby when the kits were given out, so the real issue was the degree of his supervision.
The panel has yet to decide on any punishment.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2019.