Tue, Feb 01, 2005 - Page 2 News List

DOH outraged by doctor's arrest on ecstasy charges

PROFESSIONAL COST A Cathay General Hospital physician picked up for narcotics possession could face jail time and have his right to practice medicine revoked

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday that the license of a Taipei doctor arrested on drug charges could be revoked, but not until the legal process is completed.

Lee Jung-peng (李君鵬), 31, a doctor of emergency medicine at Cathay General Hospital, was arrested on charges of possessing ecstasy pills after he left a club in Taipei's Sungshan district Sunday.

Police officials said it was Lee's third arrest on drug charges in four years. He was arrested once before for possession of ecstasy and once for using the drug.

If Lee loses his license, it would be the first time a doctor in this country was disqualified for drug abuse. Health officials scrambled yesterday to defend the reputation of the nation's doctors, stressing that Lee's case was one of an individual's error.

"This is the very first case. We regret the misconduct. But the public must not discredit all physicians in Taiwan just because of an individual's blunder," Bureau of Medical Affairs Director-General Hsueh Jui-yuan (薛瑞元) said.

"It's unheard of. It's really shocking," said Li Jih-heng (李志恆), director-general of the Bureau of Controlled Drugs.

The DOH said that it would revoke Lee's license if he is found guilty and his case goes through the appeals process.

"The case must go through the legal process first. After the prosecutor brings the case to the court, if he is found guilty and if the verdict is upheld during appeals, we will then revoke his license," Hsueh said.

Under Article 5 of the Doctor's Law (醫師法), a doctor who violates the Statute for Narcotics Hazard Control (毒品危害防治條例) will not be allowed to continue practicing medicine.

"We are stricter with health professionals because they have easier assess to certain controlled drugs, such as morphine or opium," Hsueh said. "The stern punishment is meant to cut off any possible drug abuse by health professionals."

Hsieh said that in Lee's case, his reported drug use might also pose a threat to his patients.

"If there is any malpractice because a doctor is on drugs, the doctor is certainly the one to be blamed. There is no room for ambivalence in such a case," Hsieh said.

The Cathay General Hospital refused to comment on Lee's arrest yesterday but it did issue a press release stating that his hospital privileges had been revoked.

"A final decision will be made after the court's verdict," the press release said.

Lee was released on bail pending further inquiries.

Under the Statute for Narcotics Hazard Control, people convicted of possessing ecstasy pills can be sentenced to prison for up to two years. People found guilty of using ecstasy can face up to three years in jail, except for first offenders.

Health officials said Lee's case is part of the larger picture of drug abuse in this country. Although ecstasy is not the most commonly used drug here, it is more attractive to young people than heroin or amphetamines.

"Ecstasy derives from the pub culture and pubs are increasingly a common social venue for young people," Li said.

According to the latest statistics from the Bureau of Controlled Drugs, police confiscated 44.65kg of ecstasy in 2001, 132.65kg in 2002 and 405.63kg in 2003.

"We expect last year's figure to be even higher. Ecstasy will not disappear soon," Li said.

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