Fake pharmacist handled more than 700,000 prescriptions, state agency alleges

By Joseph Geha - The Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — California’s pharmacy board is investigating whether three Bay Area Walgreens stores allowed an employee without a pharmacist license to verify or dispense hundreds of thousands of prescriptions over several years.

For more than a decade, Walgreens stores in Fremont, Milpitas and San Jose allowed Kim Thien Le to perform pharmacist duties — including reviewing patient drug use — for 745,355 prescriptions dispensed from a total of 395 Walgreens pharmacies, according to a California State Board of Pharmacy investigation.

If the allegations prove true, each store faces a range of penalties from receiving a formal reprimand to having its pharmacy license revoked, said Bob Davila, a spokesman with the pharmacy board.

According to the pharmacy board’s complaint, 100,701 of those prescriptions were for controlled substances, many verified electronically and remotely. The complaint says the “greatest number of verifications had been performed in or for” the Walgreens at 2600 Mowry Ave. in Fremont. The complaint did not specify how many verifications or where all the 395 stores are located. Walgreens operates at 622 locations in California, and nearly 10,000 across the U.S. and its territories.

Le also signed off on issuing medication to some patients whose prescription forms didn’t meet state requirements for preventing counterfeit prescriptions or black market distribution.

A hearing date for the accusations against Le and the three Walgreens locations has not yet been set, Davila said. The final decision on punishment would rest with the board, after an administrative judge makes a recommendation.

Le worked for Walgreens in various capacities from 1999 until fall 2017, falsely serving as a pharmacist since 2006, according to the complaint, which was filed with the state attorney general’s office in October.

She acted as the pharmacist-in-charge at the Walgreens at 1833 N. Milpitas Blvd. from April 2016 to November 2016, and then as the pharmacist-in-charge for the Walgreens at 2105 Morrill Ave. in San Jose for nearly a year, beginning in November 2016.

In addition to verifying medications, San Jose staff members told investigators they saw Le counseling patients regarding their prescriptions, administering vaccinations to patients, and supervising intern pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, all tasks reserved for licensed pharmacists.

At the Fremont store, investigators listed 11 prescriptions, mostly for anti-anxiety medications, which were filled under Le’s authority even though the prescription request forms were not properly marked. For example, the forms lacked the required security watermarks that make it harder to counterfeit prescriptions.

A spokesperson for Walgreens said Le is no longer working for the company and has not since October 2017, but declined to comment further, citing the pending case with the board of pharmacy.

By Joseph Geha

The Mercury News

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