A California appeals court has upheld the California Board of Pharmacy’s discipline against a pharmacist who supervised a pharmacy technician who stole more than $1 million worth of painkillers.
A California appeals court has upheld the California Board of Pharmacy’s (CBOP) discipline against a pharmacist who supervised a pharmacy technician who stole more than $1 million worth of painkillers.
Click here to read the CBOP’s decision against Sternberg.
Between 2006 and 2008, Andrew M. Sternberg was the pharmacist-in-charge at a Target pharmacy in San Fernando, California.
During that time, pharmacy technician Imelda Hurtado stole Norco tablets from the pharmacy without Sternberg’s knowledge. According to court papers, Hurtado ordered 3,000 Norco tablets at a time from the manufacturer. She made the orders from her home telephone an estimated 85 times.
Authorities said Hurtado scheduled the deliveries for days when she was working, destroyed the delivery records, then took the tablets to her car when the pharmacist was on a break. She allegedly stole more than 216,000 painkillers before her scheme was uncovered. She was eventually arrested.
Sternberg, who had more than 30 years of experience with no board violations, alerted supervisors after he found a bottle of Norco tablets. He became suspicious because the pharmacy did not stock Norco.
After an investigation, CBOP revoked Hurtado’s license and brought charges against both Sternberg and Target, which settled the charges by paying a $100,000 fine, providing 100 hours of community service, and accepting five years’ probation. Sternberg’s penalty was eventually reduced to three years’ probation.
The charges against Sternberg included failure to maintain records of acquisition and disposition, allowing a nonpharmacist to order and sign for deliveries, failure to properly supervise Hurtado, failure to secure and maintain the facilities from theft; and failure to provide effective controls to prevent the theft.
CBOP contended that Sternberg would have discovered the thefts sooner if he had randomly and periodically audited the pharmacy’s invoices and inventory. It also faulted Sternberg for not instituting standard security procedures.
Sternberg argued that CBOP’s interpretation of the law would hold a pharmacist responsible if a burglar broke in overnight and stole drugs, and the pharmacy could not account for those drugs the next day.
However, the appeals court judges disagreed. “The simple response is that Hurtado did not burglarize the Target pharmacy overnight, but took advantage of Sternberg’s inadequate inventory procedures to steal a massive quantity of Norco over an 18-month period,” Justice Madeleine Flier wrote. “But even if a pharmacy is burglarized as in Sternberg’s hypothetical, section 4081 requires the pharmacist-in-charge to maintain an inventory of dangerous drugs, so if he or she is unable to account for what was stolen, it would not be unreasonable to subject him or her to licensing discipline.”