The story really started two years ago when a routine inspection uncovered that some prescribed controlled substances had been dispensed without the proper security measures required to do so. The investigators turned to Walgreen’s pharmacist Kim Thien Le, whose signature authorized the release of the prescriptions.
The problem was that Le had claimed two license numbers belonging to other people as her own. When confronted, Le told the investigators that if they would “just forget about this” that she and her son “would be very grateful”. She also offered to pay any fine and promised that she would quit her pharmacist work.
Further investigations uncovered even more disturbing facts. Le had held a pharmacy technician license at one time. But she hadn’t had a valid once since 2008 when the one she did hold had expired. It’s not clear yet whether her credentials had been reviewed or validated during her employment with Walgreens. Her employment with the chain ended in 2017.
A complaint was filed with the Board of Pharmacy of the Department of Consumer Affairs in the State of California by the Attorneys General of the State of California against Walgreens #04517 in Fremont, Walgreens #00900 in San Jose, and Walgreens #05480 in Milpitas. In essence, the complaint indicates that Walgreens #04517 pharmacy dispensed prescriptions of controlled substances without meeting statutory requirements for prescription forms. Some of these had been initialed by remote electronic verification at Walgreens #00900 by Kim T. Le, who was employed by Walgreens as a pharmacist and pharmacist-in-charge, but whose Pharmacist License Number belonged to another licensed pharmacist who was not employed by Walgreens. It was determined that though Le had been licensed at one time as a Pharmacy Technician, she had never been licensed as a Pharmacist.
The story becomes more convoluted because Le affirmed that she had received a pharmacy degree from Creighton University in Nebraska, though there was no evidence that any degree had been awarded. No licenses were discovered as issued to Le by the Nebraska agency that licenses pharmacists. Walgreens did not have or keep any proof of Le’s purported licenses or employment application. The staff at all Walgreens where Le worked had seen Le performing duties reserved only for licensed pharmacists.
The most shocking part of the story is that she had performed the steps required by a pharmacist to verify 745,355 prescriptions at 395 Walgreens pharmacies, with many of these verified by remote electronic verifications. The ones which were for controlled substances totaled 100,701. Walgreens #04517 had the largest number of verifications. These all took place between November 1, 2006 and September 30, 2017. Le and Walgreens became subject to numerous causes for discipline.
As of October 11, 2018, the Board of Pharmacy, Department of Consumer Affairs for the State of California issued the decision that the licenses of the three Walgreens and Kim Thien Le be revoked or suspended and ordered them to pay the Board reasonable costs of the investigation and enforcement of the case, and allowing further action as deemed necessary and proper to take place.
Because a four-year doctoral degree of pharmacy, passing a national competency exam and a state ethics exam are required in California before a pharmacist license is issued, handling drugs must be done by a highly trained and competent individual. Medications are complicated and patients risk harm when an unqualified person acts as a pharmacist. In comparison, a pharmacy technician only must complete vocational training after completing a high school degree.
The fact that Le was able to pose as a licensed Walgreens pharmacist for a decade has people all across the U.S. debating over whether she was highly competent and did her job or if she was a liar who jeopardized patient’s health and should be considered a criminal. Readers of local and major newspapers are posting a wide range of comments. Some sarcasm includes the ideas that an excellent pharmacist may be had without earning a pharmacy license, or a pharmacy can notify a patient that they are attempting to fill a controlled substance a day too early but cannot manage to notice if a prescription is signed by a fake pharmacist. Others simply stated that Le needs to be charged for some crime. Still more were firm that Le could be charged with identify theft, fraud, illegally selling controlled substances, and defrauding Walmart out of the wages normally paid to a pharmacist. Because she did her job, apparently well, for ten years, many believe that there is an obsession with licensing which might be considered ridiculous.
Certainly, the debate is flaring. Currently, there is no clear information about Le facing criminal charges. There is no clear news about where she is, or what she is doing either. What is known, is that this news is spreading like a California wildfire on news outlets across the U.S. The story of Kim Thien Le is a charade with considerable consequences.