Only Ont. doctor disciplined for over-prescribing opioids calls investigation a 'witch hunt'

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario found Windsor Dr. Robert Cameron committed an act of professional misconduct during a hearing held in Toronto Monday. He has agreed to give up his licence to practise medicine.

Discipline committee found Dr. Robert Cameron prescribed narcotics 'well in excess' of recommended doses

Dr. Robert Cameron was the only doctor formally disciplined following a province-wide investigation into the over-prescription of opioids. (Dan Taekema/CBC Windsor)

The only Ontario doctor formally disciplined as part of a province-wide investigation into the over-prescription of opioids claims he's done nothing wrong and is simply the victim of a vile witch hunt.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario found Windsor Dr. Robert Cameron committed an act of professional misconduct during a hearing held in Toronto Monday.

A college discipline committee concluded the 65-year-old "had a tendency to prescribe narcotics at doses well in excess of those recommended in the relevant clinical guidelines."

The allegations followed an investigation by the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care which indicated that in 2015, Cameron prescribed at least eight patients with the equivalent of at least 650 morphine doses per day, and issued at least one prescription exceeding 20,000 oral morphine equivalents.

It was also noted, in some cases, that Cameron "failed to react to information from third parties about potential opioid abuse," and "regularly prescribed" narcotics to patients who were also prescribed methadone for addiction without consulting the prescriber.

'I'm the designated charcoal broil'

But Cameron said the college's findings contain factual errors and don't take into consideration the needs of people struggling with extreme pain.

"If you actually talk with the patients you'll see how much better their lives were with the treatment I was giving them, but they don't care about that. They care about their rules, they care about dealing with this high-profile issue," he said. "When you go on a witch hunt, somebody has to burn even if you don't find any witches. And I'm the designated charcoal broil."

Dr. Robert Cameron says he was caught up in an opioid "witch hunt" 0:22

In a statement sent to CBC News, a spokesperson said the college "strongly disputes" Cameron's claims.

"The College denies that there were "multiple factual errors" in the report from the College's expert and Dr. Cameron did not deliver any expert report refuting the conclusions of the College's expert," wrote Tracey Sobers in an email

The problem isn't what doctors are prescribing. The problem is street drugs and people who can't get their prescriptions going to street drugs.- Dr. Robert Cameron, Sandwich Medical Walk-In Clinic

A total of 84 doctors were investigated by the college, but Cameron was the only doctor who was disciplined — 44 of those doctors are undergoing educational courses to teach them how to prescribe narcotics safely.

Cameron admitted that in some cases his "judgment was a little more lenient that it should have been" and added he feels the college has done a good job of catching the "actual bad guys" but he maintains he's not one of them.

Cameron gave up his licence

After the discipline hearing, Cameron agreed to give up his licence to practise medicine and agreed he would never apply for registration as a physician in this province or any other jurisdiction — he said it's simple too exhausting and expensive to keep fighting the college through the trial process.

Addictions expert, Dr. Tony Hammer, said he's surprised the college only punished one doctor. (Dan Taekema/CBC Windsor)

He was authorized to practise in 1978 and has been working at the Sandwich Medical Walk-In Clinic for the past several years where he said patients who couldn't find help anywhere else came to him for care.

"The problem isn't what doctors are prescribing. The problem is street drugs and people who can't get their prescriptions going to street drugs and that's what's killing these people," Cameron explained. "Basically they've been treated like garbage by the College of Physicians and Surgeons and thrown onto the dust heap."

His conclusions were totally inappropriate and the college here acted quite correctly.- Dr. Tony Hammer, Erie-St. Clair Clinic

Dr. Tony Hammer, an addictions specialist at the Erie-St. Clair Clinic in Windsor, said he was surprised Cameron was the only doctor singled out by the college.

"I would feel more comfortable if they had found more than one who needed this course of action because I'm certainly aware of a number locally where I'm not confident re-education is sufficient," he explained.

A poster board explaining how Naloxone kits work is posted in the Sandwich Medical Walk-In Clinic, run by Dr. Robert Cameron, who was disciplined for over-prescribing opioids. (Dan Taekema/CBC Windsor)

As for Cameron's defence that he was helping people in a high-needs area of the city, Hammer said prescribing more narcotics is not the solution.

"He's dealing with a population with a far higher prevalence of substance abuse disorder and where criminal activity is so much higher," said the addictions expert. "He got it exactly 180 degrees the wrong way round. His conclusions were totally inappropriate and the college here acted quite correctly."

Worries new doctor won't risk opioids

A new doctor will be taking over Cameron's practice when he officially ends his medical career on April 30. But the doctor said he's worried the patients who rely on him to fill their prescriptions will turn to street drugs unless she's willing to do the same things he was punished for.

"I don't know if she'll be willing to take the risk of treating these people adequately and risk being targeted by the college."