Doctors in general have a well known reputation for writing illegibly when filling out prescriptions, but ironically enough, that sloppy handwriting is one of the key measures to prevent prescription fraud.
The U.S. Department of Justice has issued guidelines for pharmacists to help prevent forged and fraudulent prescriptions that result in powerful controlled substance abuse of drugs such as Hydrocodone and Oxycodone. The first suggestion in the DOJ document to help spot forgeries reads ‘Prescription looks “too good”; the prescriber’s handwriting is too legible’. Other hints are the failure to use proper medical abbreviations, prescribing of unusual doses or combinations of drugs, and even the use of different color inks. Pharmacists are also urged to track significant volumes and frequencies of prescriptions coming from a practitioner, and to watch out for an unusual number of people coming in with similar prescriptions, and requests from non-regular customers.
Professional pharmacists have a number of other ways to prevent prescription fraud, but it still happens, and the Modesto Police Narcotics Enforcement Team (MNET) conducted a recent investigation that led to four arrests for drug fraud, according to Modesto PD Investigator Chris Adams.
The investigation began in November when the team received an anonymous tip, which led to a three month investigation. They found that blank prescription pads had been stolen from a local pain management clinic, and prescriptions forged by members of a criminal gang, to be brought into a CVS Pharmacy in Modesto. Over the past year, investigators learned that over 50,000 Schedule II drugs, and over 7,000 Schedule IV drugs were illegally obtained through these forged prescriptions. Schedule II drugs, such as Hydrocodone, are highly susceptible to abuse and addiction. Schedule IV drugs, such as Xanax, have a lower potential for abuse, but may still lead to dependency. Investigators found that Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Xanax and Phentermine were the most common drugs the group acquired.
MNET investigators joined with the Modesto Police Street Gangs Unit, Police Detectives, and Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers on Tuesday, January 13 to serve search warrants at five locations in Modesto and one in Hughson, a community just outside Modesto to the east. They located a total of 2,700 Schedule II pills, and an additional 100 Schedule IV pills, along with two loaded firearms and a high capacity magazine, $1000.00 in cash, and fraudulent and blank prescription pads.
The also arrested four suspects in the criminal gang. 27-year-old Christina Martinez, 30-year-old Lance Aaron Wilson, 31-year-old Lenele Nunez, and 43-year-old Mona Chavarin, all of Modesto, were charged with 286 counts each of forged prescriptions, fraud, and commercial burglary, along with 181 counts of identity theft, and conspiracy. Martinez was also charged with transportation and possession of controlled substances for sale, being armed while committing a felony, and child endangerment. Wilson, a reported car salesman, was additionally charged with transportation and possession of controlled substances for sale, being armed while committing a felony, and being a felon in possession of a firearm and a high capacity magazine.
The Modesto Bee reported that Lenele Nunez worked as the office manager for Central Valley Pain Management, and was the inside connection in the theft of the prescription pads. She had authority to order and maintain the supply of the forms. Her former supervisor and owner of the practice, Dr. Patrick Rhodes, told the Bee that additional safeguards would be implemented to prevent that from happening again.
Mona Chavarin is also a licensed pharmacy technician. It may have been her background and expertise that allowed the team to create convincing fraudulent prescriptions without detection for so long.
Sergeant Kelly Rea, the MNET supervisor, said this kind of abuse, fraud and diversion is on the rise. “We are seeing more and more of these cases come through our office. It’s alarming how many people are becoming addicted to these pills, and moving right into other highly addictive drugs, such as Heroin” said Sergeant Rea. He suggested that use of these high potency pain killers, when unsupervised by a doctor, can lead to addiction and then turn to a cheaper street drug, like heroin.
“Taking down such a significant group responsible for bringing thousands of pills to the street will hopefully make an impact”, added Sergeant Rea. “I can only hope we saved a life from an overdose by cutting off this supplier”.
Anyone with further information on this case, or any Modesto or Stanislaus County drug sales is encouraged to call Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward. Tipsters may also text information to Crime Stoppers at 274637. Just type “TIP704” along with the message.