News and Press Releases

Patients Identities’ Compromised By Employee Committing Prescription Forgeries

April 7, 2009

CATHERINE OWINGS, 34, of Tacoma, Washington, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to the felony offense of acquiring controlled substances by deception. This offense is punishable by up to four years in prison and a $250,000.

Court documents indicate that during 2008 OWINGS was a medical receptionist at the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital at American Lake in Lakewood, Washington.

Between August 2008 and October 28, 2008, OWINGS schemed with others to obtain controlled substances. In furtherance of this scheme, OWINGS phoned in, and faxed, from the VA Hospital in Lakewood, to the Costco Pharmacy in Tacoma, fictitious prescriptions for highly abused controlled substances, including hydrocodone, a Schedule III controlled substance, and alprazolam, a Schedule IV controlled substance, using the names of existing VA patients. These unauthorized prescriptions were called in/faxed by OWINGS using an alias and the DEA number of an existing VA physician. All of this conduct was unauthorized. OWINGS obtained the names of the patients from the computer database at the VA Medical Center. Other individuals, posing as the patients named in the prescriptions, then showed up at the pharmacy and collected the drugs. At least 8 patients’ identities were used, and in excess of 20 prescriptions were obtained, totaling in excess of 2,000 hydrocodone and alprazolam pills. Some of the drugs were returned to OWINGS, who consumed them, and some of the drugs were unlawfully distributed and consumed by others.

On October 28, 2008, OWINGS was arrested in the parking lot of the Costco Pharmacy waiting for an associate to exit the pharmacy with some of the fraudulently acquired drugs.

In discussions with VA officials, OWINGS admitted her misconduct and was terminated.

OWINGS is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Robert Bryan on June 26, 2009.

National statistics show an increasing level of unlawful diversion and abuse of pharmaceutical controlled substances, as well as overdoses of such drugs resulting in rising medical costs. The unlawful possession and diversion of such substances by individuals – be it by patients, non-patients, or by medical professionals, contributes to this escalating problem, poses a danger to the user and to others, and constitutes a violation of law.

This case was investigated by the VA Office of Inspector General and is part of a federal law enforcement initiative in the Western District of Washington focused upon the unlawful diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ronald J. Friedman.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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