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Fake Walgreens pharmacist handled over 700,000 prescriptions, state officials say

Fake Walgreens pharmacist handled over 700,000 prescriptions, state officials say
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. (Danny Raustadt / TNS)

For more than a decade, Kim T. Le handled hundreds of thousands of prescriptions while she worked as a pharmacist at three Walgreens stores in the Bay Area. She administered vaccinations, ordered medications, counseled patients on their prescriptions and supervised pharmacy technicians, state officials said.

There was just one problem, officials said: Le wasn’t a licensed pharmacist.

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State officials alleged that from November 2006 to September 2017, Le unlawfully signed off on or dispensed 745,355 prescriptions, many of which were verified electronically and remotely. More than 100,000 of those prescriptions were for controlled substances such as alprazolam, a sedative used to treat anxiety and panic disorder.

The state Board of Pharmacy will determine whether the three Walgreens stores in Fremont, San Jose and Milpitas should have their pharmacy licenses suspended or revoked.

A hearing date for the accusations against Le and the three Walgreens locations has not been set, according to Bob Davila, a spokesman with the pharmacy board.

Jim Cohn, a spokesman for Walgreens, said Le’s employment with the company ended in October 2017.

“Upon learning of this issue, we undertook a re-verification of the licenses of all our pharmacists nationwide to ensure that this was an isolated incident,” Cohn said in a statement.

Le could not be reached for comment.

State pharmacy inspectors found out about Le and her alleged scheme two years ago when they paid a routine visit to a Walgreens store in Fremont, according to a complaint that was filed with the state attorney general’s office in October. The inspectors discovered that the pharmacy had dispensed prescriptions for alprazolam but did not fully meet state requirements.

Officials said the prescriptions were missing the “California Security Prescription” watermark, checked boxes that indicated the number of refills, and other necessary information.

During the investigation, state officials zeroed in on Le, who was listed as the pharmacist who had reviewed and dispensed some of those prescriptions.

State investigators determined that she was also the pharmacist-in-charge at a Walgreens store in San Jose. She had remote electronic verification.

State records showed that the pharmacist license number listed in Walgreens records belonged to another pharmacist with the same name but who was not employed by the company, according to the complaint.

“When respondent Le was confronted with this information, she claimed to be the holder of another pharmacist license number,” the complaint said.

State officials said the second license number Le provided belonged to another person with the same name. That person also didn’t work for Walgreens. Subsequently, officials learned that Le had a pharmacist technician license but that it expired in 2008.

“Le had never been licensed as a pharmacist,” the complaint said.

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As investigators continued to look into Le, they learned she had worked as a pharmacist and pharmacist-in-charge at a Walgreens store in Milpitas.

According to the complaint, Le began working for Walgreens, the second-largest drugstore chain in the United States, as a cashier on Sept. 20, 1999. Two years later she began working as a pharmacy technician and an intern pharmacist. In 2006, she began working as a pharmacist.

State officials said they confronted Le about the two pharmacist licenses that belonged to other people after the birth of her son.

“Le said, ‘Me and my son would be very grateful if you could just forget about this,’ ” the state’s complaint read, adding that she offered to pay a fine and never work as a pharmacist again.

According to the complaint, Le told officials that she had received her pharmacy degree from Creighton University in Nebraska. The complaint said the school had no record of her.

State officials said it was unclear whether Walgreens ever attempted to review her accreditation.

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