The company slogan read “Walgreens. Trusted Since 1901”. That claim, however, may have just taken something of a dent — particularly, if you’ve used a Bay Area Walgreens (WBA) in the past decade.
The California pharmacy board alleges that from November 2006 to September 2017, fake pharmacist Kim Thien Le filled nearly 750,000 prescriptions at three Walgreens in the region, using the pharmacy license number of a person with a similar name. She also advised patients, administered vaccinations and supervised other staff.
Le had once had a pharmacy technician license, but it expired in 2008. Officials say it isn’t clear whether Walgreens ever attempted to review her credentials.
A Walgreens spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that Le’s employment ended in October 2017, and since the complaint was filed, the chain had undertaken a re-verification of all of its pharmacists’ licenses nationwide.
Checking credentials is a critical first step when a pharmacy hires someone to handle drugs, Jon Roth, the CEO of the California Pharmacists Association, told the San Jose Mercury News. “It literally is a matter of life and death,” he said. “Some of those medication profiles are extremely complicated, and so there can be real patient harm that results from someone who’s not qualified or not licensed acting as a pharmacist.”
Becoming a pharmacist requires a four-year doctoral degree of pharmacy from an accredited school after completion of a four-year undergraduate degree, plus a national competency exam and a state ethics exam in California that must be passed before a license is issued, Roth said. Becoming a pharmacy technician requires only a high school degree plus vocational training.
According to the complaint, a routine inspection at a Walgreens in Fremont two years ago turned up some prescriptions of controlled substances that had been dispensed without the required security measures. Investigators turned their attention on Le, who had signed off on the prescriptions. When confronted with the fact that the two license numbers she had claimed as her own belonged to other people, Le said, “Me and my son would be very grateful if you could just forget about this,” “I will pay whatever fine,” and promised she would “not be coming back to work as a pharmacist.”
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. The complaint was filed in October, but a PDF of the paperwork surfaced on Reddit just a week ago. A hearing date has not yet been set.
Walgreens’ CEO Stefano Pesina announced in December he was aiming to cut $1 billion in annual costs. Walgreens’ sales for the quarter ending in November rose 9.9% to $33.8 billion.