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Woman poses as Walgreens pharmacist, fills 745,000 prescriptions, California AG says

Prescription drugs ─ the changing face of addiction

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, of the 21.5 million Americans 12 or older who had a substance use disorder in 2014, 1.9 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain pills.
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According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, of the 21.5 million Americans 12 or older who had a substance use disorder in 2014, 1.9 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain pills.

A fake pharmacist’s decade-long scheme — in which she’s accused of illegally filling 745,000 prescriptions — started to unravel when inspectors found irregularities in prescriptions from a Northern California Walgreens, according to state court filings.

Prescriptions that a Fremont pharmacy dispensed for Alprazolam, which treats anxiety and panic disorders, lacked watermarks and check boxes to show the number of refills, investigators found during an Aug. 8, 2017, inspection — and there were other irregularities with a prescription for a cough syrup with codeine, court filings said.

Those problems led investigators to the person who dispensed some of the drugs: Kim Thien Le, who at that point worked at a San Jose Walgreens drug store, court records said.

Looking into Le’s background revealed that the pharmacist license number listed for her by Walgreens belonged to another pharmacist whose name was similar but who didn’t work for the company, court records said. After Le was challenged about the license number mismatch, she gave a different license number that she said was valid — but that, too, belonged to another pharmacist with a similar name, investigators said.

It turned out Le had never been a licensed pharmacist but had been a licensed pharmacy technician — though that certification had expired in 2008, court records said. She had also worked at a Walgreens location in Milpitas. Confronted again about impersonating pharmacists, Le told investigators that “me and my son would be very grateful if you could just forget about this” and said that she would “not be coming back to work as a pharmacist,” court records said.

“I will pay whatever fine,” she told investigators, according to court filings.

Le has now been charged in Alameda County court on counts of felony false impersonation, identity theft and obtaining money, labor or property by false pretenses, according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

“Californians picking up medications at their local pharmacy should never have to worry about whether pharmacies are employing licensed pharmacists to dispense prescriptions,” Becerra said in a statement Tuesday, adding that the charges “should serve as a stern warning — we are committed to ending this reckless behavior and will vigorously hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Le is accused of impersonating pharmacists from November 2006 to September 2017 — a more than 10-year span during which she “dispensed more than 745,000 prescriptions, of which more than 100,000 contained highly regulated controlled substances, including prescription opioids such as fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine,” according to the Attorney General’s Office.

A Walgreens spokesperson previously said that Le hasn’t worked for the drug store chain since 2017, and that Walgreens “undertook a re-verification of the licenses of all our pharmacists nationwide to ensure that this was an isolated incident,” KPIX reported in January.

But the spokesman did not want to comment on how Le allegedly managed to fake being a pharmacist for around a decade, according to the TV station.

Le surrendered herself on July 26 and was booked at the Santa Clara County Jail, the Attorney General’s Office said.

“I’m just shocked beyond belief that this would happen here at Walgreens, a place that we trust,” customer Sandra Cervantez said earlier this year, according to KPIX. “It really makes me suspect of how we’re checking pharmacists’ backgrounds.”

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.
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