A GP who prescribed heroin addicts opioids and other addictive drugs is a lesson for country communities not to let doctors break under the strain, a Victorian tribunal says.
Andrew John Griffiths has been Cobden's GP for 35 years, regularly seeing more than 200 patients a week, and is the only on-call, after-hours doctor in the town, including for its 60-bed nursing home.
But he landed before the Victorian Civil and Adminstrative Tribunal over his prescription of highly-addictive drugs to nine patients between 1999 and 2013.
Dr Griffiths prescribed three drug addicts, including two heroin addicts, with opioids such as morphine and benzodiazepines such as Xanax.
He prescribed drugs to people wikth whom he had a close personal or familial relationship, kept inadequate notes on why he was prescribing the addictive drugs and breached his prescription permit obligations for drugs such as oxycodone.
It is the first time Dr Griffiths has faced discipline during his career and he admitted to the misconduct.
He told the tribunal because of his workload, he found it difficult to check his permits on each occasion.
He has since improved his checking system and no longer treats patients with whom he has a relationship, he submitted.
In their decision published on June 9, VCAT members Elisabeth Wentworth, Brian Collopy and Aruna Reddy noted the case was not one in which Dr Griffiths entirely disregarded his obligations.
"This case highlights the hazards of high workloads for general practitioners in sole rural practices and the pressures they can come under in the course of their practice," the decision reads.
While practitioners must maintain professional standards, "rural communities that depend heavily on the commitment and dedication of their doctors will also need to do all in their power to ensure those doctors do not break under the strain".
Dr Griffiths' registration was suspended for three months backdated to May 1 and must undergo education, audits and mentoring.