Drug bust: Should a veterinarian be guilty by association?


Practitioner jeopardizes license with court probation and state board investigation.

Dr. Fred Lee and three of his friends decided to see their beloved Boston Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays. It was time for a road trip. The four men often traveled together to see Major League Baseball games and spend some vacation time in their destination cities. They loaded their luggage in Dr. Lee's Dodge Caravan, packed their passports for their Canadian excursion and were off.

Dr. Lee had known these men since their high school days. He had gone on to become a veterinary emergency specialist at a large referral facility, while his buddies explored other avenues of gainful employment. Their common bond was baseball.

The group approached the Canadian border and joined the line of cars stopped at the checkpoint. Canine patrol sniffing dogs approached each car while officers asked the occupants for passports and the nature of their visit. Dr. Lee's group proudly voiced their Boston Red Sox allegiance to the border agent. The agent then directed them to pull out of the line and informed Dr. Lee that the car and its occupants were being denied entry into Canada.

Photo source: Getty ImagesWhile this was happening, U.S. border patrol agents approached the car and asked the men to step out. The dogs had shown some interest in the luggage in the back of the van, and the agents proceeded to examine the bags. Lo and behold, one of Dr. Lee's passengers had a substantial amount of marijuana and some contraband pills in his suitcase. Dr. Lee informed the agents that he'd had no knowledge of the illegal contents in the car. His pleas fell on deaf ears and each of the car's occupants were arrested. The patrol agent informed the group that the judge would sort out the particulars.

Throughout the court proceedings, Dr. Lee maintained his ignorance and innocence of knowingly attempting to transport illegal drugs across an international border. But all of the men were found guilty, entered into a first offenders intervention program and put on probation for two years.

Needless to say, the road trip ended tragically, and some friendships were shattered forever. Dr. Lee had more problems to deal with when the arrest was automatically reported to his state licensing board. Dr. Lee was a licensed professional with a narcotics license. He responded to the state board as honestly as possible-he went on a road trip with his friends. Unbeknownst to him, one of his car mates packed some illegal drugs, and everyone in the car was arrested.

He stated that he never used or possessed illegal drugs and that he took his responsibility as a veterinarian with a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) license very seriously. He assured the board this would never happen again.

The board advised Dr. Lee that his responsibility as a licensed veterinarian with controlled dangerous substance privileges extended not only to himself but to the behavior of those with whom he associated. He had to exercise due diligence to ensure that he wasn't in a collegial setting with anyone committing illegal acts. Dr. Lee respectfully replied that he didn't see how he could be expected to ask all his friends if they were doing anything illegal before a social interaction occurred.

With the understanding that the finding would be stayed for the length of the probation mandated by the courts, the board cited him for professional misconduct. At the end of the probation it would be removed from his record unless he violated the court-ordered probation. Do you agree with the board's decision?

Rosenberg's response

If you believe Dr. Lee, he's truly an innocent victim in this case. But it's hard for me to believe he didn't know that his friend was a recreational drug user. Nevertheless, a veterinarian in possession of a controlled substances license is obligated to see that these medications are medicinally used and not abused. This obligation applies to Dr. Lee and those around him. The idea of questioning all friends about substance abuse seems a bit far-fetched. On the other hand, the law is the law. Dr. Lee was convicted of attempting to import drugs to another country, and the state board could not ignore this information. It was an unfortunate situation and should stand as a cautionary tale.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, N.J. He is a member of the New Jersey Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. Although many of his scenarios in “The Dilemma” are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.

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