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Walgreens Agrees to Pay $7.5 Million To End Lawsuit Over Unlicensed Pharmacist

George F. Indest III HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On February 4, 2020, Walgreens agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle allegations that for more than a decade it let an unlicensed pharmacist handle hundreds of thousands of prescriptions. The pharmacy giant settled with authorities after an employee was criminally charged with impersonating a pharmacist in California. Prosecutors said that from 2006 through 2017, she used the license numbers of other registered pharmacists to dispense more than 745,000 prescriptions at Walgreens stores.

A Phony Pharmacist.

According to the lawsuit, Kim Thien Le worked for Walgreens for more than 15 years, first as an intern and then a pharmacist, despite never having her license. Le allegedly used the license of another person with the same first name to dispense more than 100,000 prescriptions for dangerous controlled substances. By using the license numbers of legitimate pharmacists, she was able to illegally impersonate and dispense highly regulated controlled substances, including prescription opioids such as fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine.

State Pharmacy Audit.

California state authorities discovered that she did not have a license during a pharmacy board audit in 2017. In California, as in most states, working as a pharmacist or pharmacist intern without a license from the state Board of Pharmacy is a crime. Le was criminally charged by the state with three felonies: false personation, identity theft, and obtaining money, labor or property by false pretenses. To read California Attorney General’s press release on this case, click here.

In a public statement, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office announced the lawsuit against Walgreens alleging the company failed to properly safeguard against an unlicensed employee working for it as a pharmacist. Click here to view the press release in full.

The settlement also requires Walgreens to ensure licensure compliance by implementing a verification program, posting proof of licensure, conducting annual audits, and submitting an annual compliance report.

To read about a similar case involving overprescribing in Florida, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Consult With A Health Law Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Pharmacists and Pharmacies.

We routinely provide deposition coverage to pharmacists, pharmacies and other health professionals being deposed in criminal cases, negligence cases, civil cases or disciplinary cases involving other health professionals.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians, physician assistants and other health professionals in investigations and at Board of Pharmacy hearings. Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

“Walgreens to pay $7.5M in settlement over phony pharmacist.” AP News. (February 3, 2020). Web.

Zaveri, Mihir. “A Fake Pharmacist, 745,000 Prescriptions and a $7.5 Million Settlement.” The New York Times. (February 4, 2020). Web.

Clough, Craig. “Walgreens To Pay $7.5M To End Suit Over Fake Pharmacist.” Law360. (February 4, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Alaska Board of Pharmacy Sends Letter to its Pharmacists Sending Mixed Signals Over Filling Opioid Prescriptions (Part 1 of a 2 part series)

George IndestBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The “Opioid Crisis” in the U.S.

We all know that there is an “opioid crisis” in the U.S. It is probably prevalent in every state. In Florida we have been suffering under it for the past ten to fifteen years. So it is nothing new to Florida. Government regulators including, but not limited to the Florida Department of Health (DOH), Florida Attorney General (AG), different State’s Attorneys’ (prosecutors) offices, multi-jurisdictional task forces, local law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), along with federal prosecutors, have been involved in ongoing efforts in Florida for the past fifteen years or so, to shut down “pill mills” and attempt to eliminate the “opioid crisis.” Florida was, unfortunately, leading this trend.

The “Opioid Crisis;” Nothing New in Florida.

During this same period of time, my firm and I have been involved in defending physicians and pharmacists in criminal, civil, and administrative actions seeking to prosecute them, revoke their licenses, revoke their DEA registrations, terminate them from Medicaid participation, levy fines on them and other punitive actions. Florida was also, unfortunately, leading this trend.

So our opinions and comments in this blog, Part 1, and its Part 2, are informed by long years of experience with something that is old news in Florida, but may be new news in other states.

Alaska Sends out its Warning to Pharmacists to Keep Filling Prescriptions for Opioids.

On January 23, 2019, the Chairman of the Alaska Board of Pharmacy sent out an open letter to Alaska pharmacists, discussing the negative effect on patient health that has arisen in response to the fact that many pharmacists have stopped filling prescriptions for opioids. From its tone, it warns pharmacists to keep filling such prescriptions under threat of possible disciplinary action against their licenses, at least that is my interpretation of it. Here is a copy you can read for yourself, click here.

The two-page letter begins by stating:

The [Alaska] Board of Pharmacy has had an influx of communication concerning patients not able to get controlled substance prescriptions filled for various reasons, even when signs of forgery or fraudulence were not presented.

The letter continues stating:

As a professional reminder, failing to practice pharmacy using reasonable knowledge, skill, competence, and safety for the public may result in disciplinary actions under Alaska statute and regulation. These laws are: AS [Alaska Statutes] 08.80.261 DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS.

It then continues, quoting and citing other statutes and administrative codes under which a pharmacist could be charged for refusing to fill an opioid prescription for a patient.

Chilling? Mixed Signals? You be the Judge!

The problem I have is where is the state board of pharmacy (in any state, not just Alaska), when the DEA comes in to the pharmacy with its search warrants and arrest warrants? Where is the state board of pharmacy when the raid by local police/sheriff/multi-jurisdictional task force comes into the pharmacy? Where is the state board of pharmacy when the U.S. Attorney’s Office indicts and prosecutes the pharmacist? Where is the state board of pharmacy when the DEA issues its Order to Show Cause (OTSC) why the pharmacy’s or pharmacist’s DEA registration should not be revoked.

The state board of pharmacy is usually the one providing the expert witnesses to testify against the pharmacist or pharmacy, that’s where. The state board of pharmacy is standing by ready to take disciplinary action against the pharmacist or pharmacy, after the other government agencies get finished.

If pharmacists and pharmacies are refusing to fill prescriptions for opioids, which is something that I advise my clients to do, if they can afford to do so, then that is a smart move, until state agencies, including the state boards of pharmacy, take action to help them out of this predicament. The pharmacists are caught on the horns of a dilemma: face federal and state criminal prosecutions and actions by the DEA for filling opioid prescriptions; or face possible administrative actions by the state board of pharmacy for not filling opioid prescriptions. My advice is to choose the latter as it is much easier to defend a state administrative action, especially if you are not trying to do so from a federal prison somewhere.

The cost of defending a DEA action to revoke a DEA registration is prohibitive if done correctly, even if the pharmacist is completely innocent of any wrongdoing. The goal of these proceedings, despite the innocence of the pharmacist or pharmacy, is to put them out of business, and it almost always succeeds! Click here to read one of my prior blogs about DEA investigations of health care professionals.

To read my additional opinions on the types of actions that can be taken by states and state agencies to address the issues which the Alaska Board letter attempts to address, please see Part 2 of this blog. To read more on pill mill cases in the state of Florida, click here.

To learn more on administrative and informal hearings before the Florida Board of Pharmacy, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Pharmacies and Pharmacists.

The Health Law Firm represents pharmacists and pharmacies in DEA, DOH and FDA investigations, qui tam and whistleblower cases, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, administrative hearings, inspections and audits. The Firm also represents both plaintiffs (whistle blowers or relators) and defendants in False Claims Act (whistle blower or qui tam) cases. The firm’s attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2019 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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