No pharmacist or pharmacy owner ever wants to get a letter from the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy about a complaint. If you received a letter from the Board concerning a violation of the Board’s rules and regulations or North Carolina law you may be uncertain about what to do next, what the procedures are, and what the results may be.
You may also be trying to decide whether you need to hire an attorney to assist you in responding to the Pharmacy Board. Our firm represents pharmacists and pharmacy owners in responding to the Board and defending against allegations of misconduct. Representation at the inquiry stage is significantly less expensive than in a formal evidentiary public hearing; therefore, the investment in protecting your license and livelihood generally is more cost-effective in the earlier stages. Our firm’s best opportunity to assist you in obtaining a favorable or acceptable outcome typically is in these early stages. We have a good working relationship with staff and counsel to the Pharmacy Board and frequently can work out an acceptable resolution without the need for a formal hearing.
In the sections below, we attempt to address some of the questions you may have and explain the general process, procedures, and possible results.
North Carolina Board of Pharmacy — Overview
As background, the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy was created by the N.C. legislature to protect the public health, safety, and welfare in pharmaceutical matters and is an agency of the State. The Board generally has the power to adopt and enforce regulations and laws pertaining to the distribution and use of drugs. It consists of six members, five pharmacists and one public member. The Board has the power to issue a letter of reprimand; or suspend, restrict, revoke, or refuse to grant or renew a license to practice pharmacy. In addition, the Board may require licensees to successfully complete remedial education.
Responding to an Inquiry and Investigation
If you received an inquiry from the Board, this generally means a complaint and potentially supporting evidence have been submitted to the Board. In addition, the Board staff may initiate staff-opened cases where the staff has received information from various sources. Upon receipt of the information, the staff will review the information and determine whether a case should be opened.
Often, your first contact may be from an investigator for the Pharmacy Board seeking an interview or visiting the pharmacy. In some instances, especially when controlled substances are involved, the Board’s investigator may also be accompanied by an SBI agent, which is a good indication you may need to retain counsel.
In other cases, the Board may send an initial letter to the pharmacist or owner requesting a response to the allegations. You are required to fully cooperate with the Board in connection with any inquiry the Pharmacy Board makes.
In drafting a response to an inquiry, it is important for you to include all information and documentation necessary to fairly and fully respond to the allegations. However, it is equally important for you to include only the pertinent information and documentation. We help our clients make these judgments and determinations from an objective standpoint and with knowledge of and experience with the process in defending matters before the Pharmacy Board. We also regularly work with pharmacists that have substance abuse or mental health issues, including working with the North Carolina Pharmacist Recovery Network (NC PRN).
In exceptional cases, the Board may issue an order summarily suspending a pharmacist’s license. This extraordinary step is only authorized if the public health, safety, or welfare requires such drastic action. In the past, the Pharmacy Board has taken such summary action if, for example, a pharmacist is charged or convicted of a felony related to the practice of pharmacy. Upon service of such an order, the licensee must immediately cease the practice of pharmacy. The Board is then supposed to promptly give notice of a formal hearing. The suspension will remain in effect pending a final decision after the formal hearing. We have worked with the Pharmacy Board to avoid or resolve such drastic measures against pharmacist clients, when feasible.
After completing its investigation, the Board may close the case without taking further action or may hold an informal conference between a member of the Board, its investigative staff, counsel and the pharmacist or pharmacy owner. The primary purpose of the conference is for the Board’s staff and counsel to summarize the evidence, allow the pharmacist or owner to present evidence in defense and attempt to resolve the complaint without a formal public hearing before the full Board. At these conferences, a Board member in consultation with counsel and staff may direct one or more of the following dispositions:
At the informal conference, the Board member often offers the pharmacist or owner a resolution of the case, which is followed by a proposed consent order. The pharmacist or owner must agree to all matters in the consent order and then the Pharmacy Board must approve the consent order at its next regular meeting.
We help our clients evaluate and determine whether they should accept a proposed consent order, including often negotiating certain terms. The Board has more flexibility regarding disciplinary actions in negotiating and entering into consent orders than it does after formal hearings. This flexibility is one reason we attempt, whenever possible, to reach a consent order and avoid a formal hearing.
Formal Public Hearing
If the matter is not dismissed and a settlement cannot be reached through a consent order, the case will be scheduled for a formal public hearing before the full Board, after notice is given to the pharmacist or owner. If they have not done so already, many professionals decide that they need to retain a firm or attorney at the formal stage.
All formal hearings are conducted by the Board, a panel consisting of a majority of the members of the Board, or unusual cases, an administrative judge. The pharmacist or his or her legal counsel have the right to present evidence in defense, including calling witnesses and introducing exhibits, to make objections, to cross-examine any witness called by the Board counsel, and to make a closing argument. In all cases heard by the Board, the Board will issue its decision within 60 days after its next regularly scheduled meeting following the close of the hearing.
Possible Discipline and Outcomes of the Public Hearing
After a formal hearing, the Board may issue an order determining there has been a violation and imposing discipline. N.C. General Statutes Section 90-85.38 allows the Board the following actions in resolution of a hearing: (1) issue a letter of reprimand; (2) restrict a license; (3) suspend a license; (4) revoke a license; (5) refuse to grant or renew a license to practice pharmacy; (6) require licensees to successfully complete remedial education if the licensee has done any of the following:
a. Made false representations or withheld material information in connection with securing a license or permit;
An order issued by the Board may be appealed to Superior Court. Generally, it is much more difficult for a licensee to prevail once the matter reaches the court system on an appeal, even if he or she retains legal counsel at that point.
Impact of Decision of Whether to Retain an Experienced Law Firm
If you have received a letter from the Board staff or have a pending formal hearing, you should consider retaining a firm like ours that has experience representing pharmacist or pharmacy owners before the N.C. Board of Pharmacy. Disciplinary action could have a significant and permanent impact on your license(s) in NC and other states, which also can substantially affect you financially and personally. Hiring an experienced law firm can be an investment in your professional future as a pharmacist. We also represent applicants for admission to practice pharmacy when the Board has raised questions or concerns about meeting the requirements or qualifications for admission, including fitness to practice. Our general explanation of board procedures has additional information about how we may be able to assist you in responding to complaints, informal proceedings and formal proceedings.