Two disgraced pharmacists face the prospect of jail after selling more than half a million sleeping tablets on the black market.
Solihull chemists Narvinder Nandra and Dean Dookhan illegally wholesaled over 20,000 packets of Zolpidem to Trinidad and Tobago, avoiding strict regulatory requirements to obtain a licence.
Dookhan, who worked at Northbrook Pharmacy in Shirley, tried to blame his criminal behaviour on another worker when investigators closed in.
While Nandra, of Gospel Lane Pharmacy in Olton, ‘misdescribed’ the tablets as he exported them – sometimes through Royal Mail – destroyed invoices and falsified new ones.
He also made up a pack of lies purporting his apparent naivety.
Both men, who were business partners, pleaded guilty to supplying a controlled Class C drug to another and possessing a medicinal product for the purpose of wholesale distribution without a licence.
Sentencing proceedings started at Birmingham Crown Court on Friday, July 9.
Judge Francis Laird QC said: “It is difficult to see a worse offence committed by a pharmacist. It’s like a solicitor stealing someone’s money. Pharmacists are trusted with people’s drugs.”
Following an investigation by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) it was revealed between September 2015 and May 2016 the pair supplied the Caribbean island with 20,790 packets of Zolpidem, equal to 582,120 individual tablets.
Jonathan Barker, prosecuting, stated the drug is prescribed ‘sparingly’ and could lead to physical and psychological dependency, which was often greater among people with psychotic disorders as well as drug and alcohol misuse issues.
He said: “The defendants knew Zolpidem to be a controlled drug, they knew the risks associated with the drug, they also knew the strict regulatory regime governing the wholesale of the controlled drug, in obtaining a licence from the MHRA and export licence from the Home Office for each shipment.
“Despite all this they chose to bypass the regulator regime and supply significant amounts to someone in Trinidad who was not a legitimate wholesaler.
“They worked together to use their pharmacies as business cover to source Zolpidem from pharmaceutical wholesalers.”
Dookhan, aged 40, of Sherwood Road, Hall Green, Birmingham, falsely implicated another pharmacist when the MHRA started investigating and asking him questions.
Nandra, aged 48, of Primsland Close, Solihull, was responsible for the exportation and would misdescribe the packages to avoid them being detected.
He initially pleaded guilty ‘on a basis’ claiming he did not know Zolpidem was a controlled drug, was not aware an exemption allowing the limited wholesale of the drug had expired in 2012, and that he believed the recipient in Trinidad and Tobago was a legitimate pharmacist.
But Judge Laird rejected his account and said: “The court found Mr Nandra had lied constantly about the issues to be determined. The whole of his evidence lacked credibility.”
A payment of around £2,800 into his personal account was discovered but it is not known exactly how much he and Dookhan made through the racket.
The pair paid just over £9,000 for the sleeping tablets with Judge Laird treating the case as a ‘double your money’ operation.
Mr Barker added: “It’s fair to say they were motivated by gain. They would have made a significant profit. What they wanted to do was to create a sideline.”
Andrew Wesley, defending Dookhan, stated the father-of-four helped care for his elderly mother, had a number of health problems himself and since ceasing the offence five years ago had carried on working in a pharmacy training and supporting others.
He said: “It was a poor mistake and poor choice. But his conduct before and since then has been exemplary. He has known from an early stage what the likely sentence is to be. He has had that hanging over him.”
Kevin McCartney, for father-of-three Nandra, emphasised the offence would be ‘terminal’ to his career regardless of the sentence. He said: “He was a competent and respected pharmacist for many, many years. In his references the repeated observation is this is completely out of character.
“His devotion to his family and friends is unwavering. He’s fell from that.”
The barrister added: “At some point a decision was made for Mr Nandra and Mr Dookhan, for two people who otherwise lived a blameless existence and were competent at their job, to do something incredibly stupid for relatively small financial gain that was less than anticipated.”
Both argued for any jail sentences for their client’s to be suspended.
Judge Laird stated the offences passed the ‘custody threshold’ but adjourned sentencing until later this month. He said: “I appreciate you have come here today probably having steeled yourselves expecting to know what your fate is but I have had some interesting and thought-provoking submissions from counsel, particularly about guidelines and how I should approach this case.
“I would like to reflect on this before I pass sentence on you both.”
Both were granted bail.