Walgreens will pay $7.5 million to settle with California authorities after an employee was criminally charged with impersonating a pharmacist and illegally filling roughly 745,000 prescriptions in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Kim Thien Le has pleaded not guilty to felony impersonation charges. Prosecutors said that from late 2006 through 2017, Le used the license numbers of registered pharmacists in order to impersonate them and dispense prescriptions at Walgreens stores in Santa Clara and Alameda counties. The prescriptions allegedly included more than 100,000 for opioids such as fentanyl, morphine and codeine. Le worked at three different Bay Area Walgreens' locations.
California law requires that anyone working as a pharmacist or pharmacy technician must obtain a license from the state's consumer affairs department's pharmacy board. The license must be renewed regularly within three years. State law also requires that someone working as a pharmacist-in-charge role must have a pharmacist license, which is different from a pharmacy tech license. Le was granted a license as a pharmacy tech in 2001, but it expired in 2008.
The state's complaint alleged that Le used the pharmacist license number of another person with her same name. Investigators questioned Le and she said she received a pharmacy degree from Creighton University in Nebraska. Creighton officials told investigators that Le was not awarded a degree from their institution.
Le herself didn't have a pharmacist license, prosecutors said. The district attorneys in both counties filed a consumer protection action complaint against Walgreens. Prosecutors this week announced that the pharmacy giant agreed to settle.
Walgreens officials did not immediately respond to an email and phone call seeking comment.
"This case serves as a cautionary tale for every health care provider that hires people into positions requiring a professional license," Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said in a statement. "The burden is on the company to make sure its employees are properly licensed and to complete a thorough background check."
The complaint alleged Walgreens failed to vet Le thoroughly when it promoted her to positions requiring a license and failed to make sure that its internal systems were strong enough to prevent an employee from evading them.
Walgreens has since taken steps to re-verify the licenses of its pharmacy employees around the country and instituted other remedial measures, O'Malley's office said.