18th January 2019, Volume 132 Number 1488

Katharine A Wallis, Susie Middleton

Little is known about disciplinary cases in New Zealand involving doctors and drugs of dependence.1,2 Disciplinary charges against doctors are heard by the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (HPDT), and prior…

Subscriber content

The full contents of this page is only available to subscribers.

To view this content please login or subscribe


We reviewed disciplinary decisions in New Zealand 1997–2016 to describe cases involving doctors and the inappropriate prescribing of drugs of dependence. Drug dependence is recognised as a disease, not a crime. We identified 25 disciplinary cases involving 24 doctors. Most doctors were male, older and working in general practice. Few cases came to light through reporting by colleagues. The penalties were severe, often spelling the end of a doctor’s career.



To describe disciplinary cases for inappropriate prescribing of drugs of dependence by doctors in New Zealand, 1997–2016.


A retrospective analysis of disciplinary decisions to describe characteristics of cases (setting, drugs, outcome) and doctors (sex, specialty, years since qualification).


There were 25 disciplinary decisions involving 24 doctors. Disciplined doctors were mostly male (19;76%), working in general practice (19;76%), and older (mean 24 years in practice). Pharmacists were the most common source of notification to the authorities (6;24%); medical colleagues reported only four (16%). The alleged misconduct often involved behaviour in addition to inappropriate prescribing. In all cases the doctor was found guilty of professional misconduct. Penalties were severe: six doctors were removed from practice, 11 were suspended, and of the remainder all but one had restrictions on practice imposed. In many decisions there was no patient harm documented.


Disciplinary cases for inappropriate prescribing of drugs of dependence by doctors in New Zealand are not common, but the consequences can be dire. The role of discipline in doctors with drug dependence is unclear.

Author Information

Katharine A Wallis, Senior Lecturer, Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, School of Population Health, University of Auckland, Auckland; 
Susie Middleton, Medical Student, University of Auckland, Auckland. 


University of Auckland Summer Research Scholarship.


Katharine Wallis, Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142.

Correspondence Email


Competing Interests



  1. Fry RA, Fry LE, Castanelli DJ. A retrospective survey of substance abuse in anaesthetists in Australia and New Zealand from 2004 to 2013. Anaesth Intensive Care. 2015; 43:111–7.
  2. Elkin K, Spittal M, Elkin D, et al. Doctors disciplined for professional misconduct in Australia and New Zealand, 2000–2009. Med J Aust. 2011; 194:452–6.
  3. Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003, Stat. 48 (NZ). http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2003/0048/latest/DLM203312.html?search=ts_act_health+practitioners_resel&p=1&sr=1 (accessed 15 Oct 2012).
  4. Mayall RM. Substance abuse in anaesthetists. BJA Education. 2016; 16:236–41.
  5. Dyer C. Julien Warshafsky: how this doctor died and what it tells us about the system that failed him. BMJ. 2018; 361:k2564.
  6. Domino KB, Hornbein TF, Polissar NL, et al. Risk factors for relapse in health care professionals with substance use disorders. JAMA. 2005; 293:1453–60.
  7. Medical Council of New Zealand. What to do when you have concerns about a colleague. 2010. http://www.mcnz.org.nz/assets/News-and-Publications/Statements/Concerns-about-a-colleague.pdf (accessed August 2018).
  8. Medical Council of New Zealand. Health concerns. Available at: http://www.mcnz.org.nz/fitness-to-practise/health-concerns/ (accessed: August 2018).
  9. Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal. Available at: http://www.mpdt.org.nz (accessed: 15 Aug 2018).
  10. New Zealand Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal. Available at: http://www.hpdt.org.nz (accessed: 15 Aug 2018).
  11. Medical Council of New Zealand. List of registered doctors. Available at: http://www.mcnz.org.nz/support-for-doctors/list-of-registered-doctors/ (accessed: 15 Aug 2018).
  12. Wallis KA. New Zealand’s 2005 ‘no-fault’ compensation reforms and medical professional accountability for harm. N Z Med J. 2013; 126.
  13. Mendelson D. Disciplinary proceedings for inappropriate presciption of opioid medications by medical practitioners in Australia (2010–2014). J Law Med. 2014; 22:255–79.
  14. Mendelson D. Disciplinary proceedings against doctors who abuse controlled substances. J Law Med. 2015; 23:24–40.
  15. Cadman M, Bell J. Doctors detected self-administering opioids in New South Wales, 1985–1994: characteristics and outcomes. Med J Aust. 1998; 169:419–21.


The downloadable PDF version of this article is only available to subscribers.

To view this content please login or subscribe