World news wrapup: 7 February 2019


Andrea Cusack and son Caden head off to make a delivery. Image courtesy Mark Cusack via Facebook.
Andrea Cusack and son Caden head off to make a delivery. Image courtesy Mark Cusack via Facebook.

Alleged fake pharmacists in California, and Antigua and Barbuda; Michigan pharmacist braves the cold to make deliveries; Nebraska pharmacist to pay back embezzled funds

San Francisco, California: For 11 years between November 2006 and September 2017, a woman filled nearly a quarter of a million prescriptions at three Walgreens pharmacies in the San Francisco Bay Area.

However Kim T Le was not actually a pharmacist – despite dispensing the medicines, ordering medicines, providing vaccinations, providing medicines counselling, and supervising pharmacy staff, reports the Los Angeles Times.

More than 100,000 of the 745,355 scripts she dispensed were for controlled drugs including alprazolam.

The alleged deception came to light when state pharmacy inspectors made a routine inspection at a Walgreens in Fremont, where it was found that the pharmacy had dispensed alprazolam but did not entirely meet California’s requirements, including those around prescription security watermarks and number of refills marked.

Ms Le was named as a pharmacist who had reviewed and dispensed some of these scripts, and it soon came to light that her pharmacist license number actually belonged to another pharmacist. She offered a second number, but this also turned out to belong to another pharmacist.

The investigators found she had held a pharmacist technician license in the past – but it expired in 2008.

Ms Le also claimed to hold a pharmacy degree from a Nebraska university, which had no record of her, according to the State’s complaint.

As well as working at the Fremont Walgreens, she had worked as the pharmacist in charge at a Walgreens in San Jose and as a pharmacist and pharmacist in charge at another Walgreens in Milpitas.

When asked about the license numbers, she allegedly replied, “Me and my son would be very grateful if you could just forget about this,” and offered to pay a fine and not work as a pharmacist again.

Walgreens terminated Ms Le’s employment in October 2017, and spokesperson Jim Cohn said that “Upon learning of this issue, we undertook a re-verification of the licenses of all our pharmacists nationwide to ensure that this was an isolated incident”.

The state’s Board of Pharmacy is now considering whether there should also be consequences for the three Walgreens stores.

 

Lake Odessa, Michigan: While Australian pharmacists battle fires and flooding to get medicines to their customers, their American counterpart has been doing the same during the same for snowed-in customers during the recent severe cold in the northern United States.

CNN and its affiliate WILX report that Andrea Cusack from the small-town pharmacy of Lake Odessa has hopped on her snowmobile – with her 15-year-old son – to get vital medicines to patients who can’t leave their homes.

“Blood pressure, diabetes meds, you do not want to stop those,” Ms Cusack told WILX. “You want to take those continuously.”

Ms Cusack contacted her patients first, to see if they were able to brave the dangerously low temperatures to get their scripts filled, and when told they were snowed in and their driveway not plowed, hopped on the snowmobile.

After attracting significant media attention in the US, she posted on Facebook to say that she was just doing her job.

“I never expected this kind of response,” she said. “I am honored to serve my community.”

 

Antigua and Barbuda: A woman has been remanded in prison and is due to face court in April after she allegedly forged documents to try and obtain registration as a pharmacist.

Christina Francine Miller, who had recently returned to Antigua and Barbuda from Boston, Massachusetts, allegedly forged a pharmacy degree from a Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, and has also been charged with “Uttering of a Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, Pharmacy Degree knowing same to be forged with intent to defraud,” reports the Antigua Observer.

She is also facing two charges of “Forgery of a College Bound High School Diploma and Uttering of a College Bound High School Diploma knowing same to be forged with intent to defraud”.

Ms Miller allegedly attempted to use the forged documents to support a claim that she had the necessary qualifications to work as a pharmacist in the Caribbean country, but when the Antigua and Barbuda Pharmacy Council tried to verify them, the alleged fraud came to light.

 “The Pharmacy Council has an obligation to protect public health,” said the Council’s president, Algernon Roberts. “Anyone who thinks that they can just hand over documents to use and endanger public health, we are telling them that we will hand over their documents to the police.”

 

Omaha, Nebraska: A former children’s pharmacist has pleaded guilty to wire fraud after embezzling more than US$4.6 million (AUD$6.35 million) from the hospital where she worked, reports Live Well Nebraska – a sum she will now need to pay back.

Lisa Kwapniowski, the former pharmacy director for the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, had been defrauding the hospital between 2010 and 2018, according to court documents.

The federal court filing states that before 2010, Ms Kwapniowski had begun to submit fraudulent invoices from real pharmaceutical companies to the hospital. By 2012, she had created a business – RxSynergy – of which she was the president and only member.

She submitted fraudulent invoices for medicines and supplies to the hospital from this company, but no goods were provided – and one of the drugs claimed, Broxcilam, did not actually exist.

The documents state that Ms Kwapniowski issued at least 227 false invoiced to the hospital.

She also allegedly sent more fraudulent invoices to the hospital between January 2012 and November 2013, purportedly from a real pharmaceutical company, and then used a hospital credit card to pay her own PayPal account, presenting the fake invoices as the reason for the expenses. The hospital then paid back the credit card directly until the fraud was uncovered.

As well as paying back the money she embezzled, Ms Kwapniowski may also face a US$250,000 (AUD$345,000) fine and up to 20 years in prison.

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