Nova Scotia doctor acquitted in opioid case now faces disciplinary hearing

The province's regulatory body for doctors has called a disciplinary hearing for Dr. Sarah Jones, who had faced criminal charges related to allegations she mishandled thousands of powerful narcotic pills.

College of Physicians and Surgeons calls disciplinary hearing for Dr. Sarah Jones

Dr. Sarah Dawn Jones arrives at provincial court in Bridgewater, N.S., in 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

A Nova Scotia doctor who has had her license suspended and faced criminal charges over allegations she mishandled thousands of powerful narcotic pills is now facing more problems.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons, the regulatory body for doctors in Nova Scotia, has called a disciplinary hearing for Dr. Sarah Jones.

Last year, Jones was acquitted of fraud and unlawful possession of narcotics after a trial in Nova Scotia provincial court in Bridgewater.

The charges were laid in 2016 after a police investigation into Jones's activity between January 2014 and August 2015. She originally faced charges of drug trafficking, but those were withdrawn by the Crown.

The prosecution alleged Jones wrote prescriptions for tens of thousands of opioid pills involving a single patient, Merle Chase, over a matter of months.

But in finding her not guilty, Judge Timothy Landry said it was clear Chase was a demanding patient and noted there was no expert evidence presented by the Crown about the medical appropriateness of the prescriptions.

Merle Chase was a patient of Jones's who testified at her criminal trial. (Robert Short/CBC)

While a judge was not satisfied of Jones's guilt, the college has levelled serious allegations against her that must be answered at the disciplinary hearing. No date for the hearing has yet been set.

The college's allegations include that Jones prescribed amounts of opioid medication to a patient that were excessive, unsafe or otherwise inappropriate; failed to properly monitor the patient's use of opioids; and continued to prescribe high doses of opioids after there was demonstrable harm to the patient, such as choking, falling and confusion with dosing.

The notice of the hearing does not name the patient, but Chase was the only one of Jones's patients to be singled out in the police investigation.

The college is also accusing Jones of failing to maintain appropriate physician/patient boundaries by, among other things:

  • Making frequent house calls over large distances, often multiple times a week.
  • Frequently picking up and delivering the patient's opioid medication and removing his unused opioid medication from his residence.
  • Ignoring and/or failing to act on indications the patient was not using the opioid medication properly or safely.

The college is also accusing Jones of misleading the Prescription Monitoring Program, the system set up to prevent the type of wrongdoing at the centre of the allegations against her.

It's not just how she dealt with patients that will be the focus of the hearing. According to the notice, the college is also accusing Jones of providing false or misleading statements about her own health, hospitalization and use of prescribed psychoactive medications.

Jones's licence to practice medicine has been suspended since the end of 2016.

The college alleges that while she was suspended, Jones practised medicine by editing online patient records. It said Jones also lied to her own doctor to obtain early refills of her own opioid medication.