Vancouver pharmacy shuttered over safer supply misuse claims

Health Hub Pharmacy on Fraser Street is pictured in Vancouver on July 2, 2024. The College of Pharmacists of B.C. has suspended the pharmacy's licence and the pharmacy manager's registration. (Ethan Cairns/CBC - image credit)
Health Hub Pharmacy on Fraser Street is pictured in Vancouver on July 2, 2024. The College of Pharmacists of B.C. has suspended the pharmacy's licence and the pharmacy manager's registration. (Ethan Cairns/CBC - image credit)

The College of Pharmacists of British Columbia has suspended the registration of a Vancouver pharmacist and shut down his pharmacy indefinitely for allegedly violating federal drug laws by misusing medications that treat opioid addiction.

Sukhpreet Singh Sidhu, who manages Health Hub Pharmacy, can no longer practise in B.C., pending an investigation and any resulting disciplinary proceedings.

The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) also found "evidence of criminal activities" and "public safety risks" during traffic stops of the pharmacy's delivery vehicle, the college said.

"We are responsible for making sure every pharmacy, pharmacist, and pharmacy technician in B.C. is providing the public with safe and ethical pharmacy care," said the college's CEO, Suzanne Solven, in a statement.

"The allegations that are the reason for these suspensions are extremely serious, and allowing the pharmacy to continue operating would pose a significant risk to patients, the public, and pharmacy staff."

The college says it's important to note that the claims are still under investigation, and it has not determined whether the allegations against Sidhu and his pharmacy are true.

Suboxone is a drug used to help people struggling with opioid addictions to taper off drug use, by curbing cravings and offsetting withdrawal symptoms.
Suboxone is a drug used to help people struggling with opioid addictions to taper off drug use, by curbing cravings and offsetting withdrawal symptoms.

Suboxone is a drug used to help people struggling with opioid addictions to taper off drug use, by curbing cravings and offsetting withdrawal symptoms. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

The allegations include inappropriate narcotic drug dispensing, improperly preparing narcotic prescriptions and not complying with policies of opioid agonist treatment (OAT), which uses medications to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Health Canada said the pharmacy didn't comply with federal drug legislation after it conducted inspections. Additionally, the college said inspectors with the College of Pharmacists identified "multiple" breaches of provincial laws and college practice standards.

'Cash, drug paraphernalia and weapons'

The college alleges the pharmacy had people not registered with the regulator delivering and administering drugs that treat opioid addiction.

In a statement to CBC News Tuesday, the VPD said that in January and February of this year, police working in the Downtown Eastside had "interactions with a person engaging in activity that was consistent with dial-a-doping" — where people call a cellphone number to arrange to buy the drugs and get them delivered to a specific location.

"The person was observed driving in the Downtown Eastside with a variety of prescription medications, cash, drug paraphernalia, and weapons. The person claimed he was an employee of a pharmacy and was doing deliveries. However, the man's behaviour was not consistent with what we know to be a legitimate delivery driver," police wrote in a statement.

While the evidence didn't meet the threshold for arrest and criminal charges, police say they forwarded the information to the College of Pharmacists.

Sukhpreet Singh Sidhu says he’s working with the college to address its concerns, respects the investigative process, and fully intends to resolve all issues.
Sukhpreet Singh Sidhu says he’s working with the college to address its concerns, respects the investigative process, and fully intends to resolve all issues.

Sukhpreet Singh Sidhu says he’s working with the college to address its concerns, respects the investigative process, and fully intends to resolve all issues. (Ethan Cairns/CBC)

Opioid treatment medications help people who are addicted to heroin, fentanyl and other substances. To help them improve day-to-day functioning, reduce cravings for opioid drugs and manage withdrawal symptoms, patients can be prescribed methadone, Suboxone or slow-release oral morphine, according to the Provincial Health Services Authority.

The B.C. government began providing universal coverage for eligible medications in 2020, and it has been a lightning rod for critics, including B.C.'s opposition parties and federal Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre, ever since.

Pharmacist says he intends to resolve 'all issues'

Health Hub Pharmacy, which is indirectly owned by Sidhu's wife, can't accept new patients or dispense any prescriptions. The college has ordered its approximately 300 patients to be transferred to other pharmacies.

Sidhu was previously investigated for "similar concerns" in 2020, and after that probe, Sidhu said he would operate the pharmacy in compliance with legislation, according to the college.

The pharmacy regulator said due to the "nature of the deficiencies" in the pharmacy's policies and procedures, Sidhu's "indirect financial interest" in the pharmacy and his "repeated non-compliance," suspending him and Health Hub's licence was the only way to ensure the public is protected.

Sidhu initially agreed to an interview with CBC News but later sent a written statement, declining to answer specific questions.

"I am actively working with the College of Pharmacists to address their concerns regarding my practice and fully intend to resolve all issues," he said.

"As a pharmacist trusted by colleagues and patients in the community. I aim to return to serving patients soon. I respect the College's investigative process. I will continue to follow the guidance of the College and comply with their requirements."

Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.'s minister of mental health and addiction, called the situation at the pharmacy "very concerning" and applauded the college for taking action.

"It is important for people to know that there is a system in place to address issues like this if and when they come up," she wrote in a statement.